A new era in Hong Kong racing begins at Sha Tin on Sunday, it is just a matter of how you want to define it.
Since the last meeting of 2017-18, two events have dramatically changed the landscape – the opening of Conghua Racecourse and the departure of Joao Moreira.
From a big picture perspective, the opening of Conghua is a game-changer, increasing Hong Kong’s horse capacity by about 50 per cent while providing trainers with new options and allowing the equine athletes to escape the busy confines of Sha Tin to enjoy some fresh air and open space. It also makes racing on the mainland a reality.
The impact the addition of the HK$3.7 billion facility has in the short-term remains to be seen, but once the bugs are ironed out and the process is streamlined, it can only be a positive – particularly for the “Conghua nine” who get first crack at it. The other 13 trainers will be hoping they are not left behind while they wait to access their boxes.
While the impact of Conghua will continue to evolve, punters won’t have to wait long to see the fallout from Moreira’s move to Japan. From the day the Magic Man began his full-time tenure in October 2013 until his last meeting, the Brazilian broke all sorts of records as he collected 714 Hong Kong winners and three jockeys’ championships.
He leaves a huge hole, which is exacerbated by the departures of Brett Prebble, Olivier Doleuze, Tommy Berry and Nash Rawiller.
That opens up plenty of opportunities for the riders on this season’s roster hungry for winners – it also leaves Zac Purton alone at the top.
Punters will have to get used to a new normal – one already highlighted by the early betting for the opening meeting.
The Australian is on seven of the 10 favourites and opened up a $1.25 chance in the Jockey Challenge.
More often than not he will get his pick of the litter and if you want to back one of his horses, you are going to have to accept skinny odds. Good luck if he forms a strong partnership with 10-time champion trainer John Size.
But everyone starts the new season with a clean slate and hope – there are winners to be had.
And you can be sure trainers, jockeys, owners and punters will be putting their hand up for a slice of the action because as much as things change, fundamentally, racing is still the same.