Talented youngsters Pakistan Friend and Aerohappiness kick off their campaigns at Sha Tin on Sunday, but the results from the first two meetings suggest only one can win.
With the break between seasons seemingly getting shorter and shorter, so far there has been one key ingredient for horses tasting success at the start of the new term – residual fitness.
Of the 18 winners so far, all of them raced in the last six weeks of the 2017-18 season while 12 competed in the final two weeks.
It takes time to build up to race condition and so far those who didn’t get much of a break have performed better than those coming off an extended holiday.
That should give Pakistan Friend’s supporters some confidence while putting the brakes on how bullish Aerohappiness’ fans are.
The Tony Cruz-trained Pakistan Friend lines up in the Class Four Shantou Handicap (1,400m), fresh off an impressive last-to-first win on July 8.
Pakistan Friend does what Pakistan Star did, stepping from the March Hong Kong International Sale to a deep-closing debut win at Sha Tin in July for owner Kerm Din. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/p54YGgIuu7— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 8, 2018
While the victory was in a very similar manner to his ownermate Pakistan Star (he bears the same colours and both were bought at the Hong Kong International Sale), the horses have no other connection as they came from different families on the opposite sides of the world.
Pakistan Friend’s debut might not have become a social media sensation, but there was plenty to like about it and the fact he remains in Class Four is a big plus – he has already shown he can handle that grade and only has to carry an additional six pounds.
Tommy Berry rode him that day and was firm in his belief that “he’s only going to get better”.
The four-year-old hit the line nicely when fourth to Southern Legend in a barrier trial last month and looks to have a class edge on the 10 competitors he faces on Sunday.
Like all get-back horses, he will need luck in running and that is potentially his biggest concern as there does not look to be much pace in the race.
Early speed is not a concern for John Size’s Aerohappiness, who has been prominent in both of his career starts.
The gelding looked terrific when winning over 1,200m on debut before finishing second over the same trip in his most recent start on April 21 – ridden by Joao Moreira on both occasions.
The master trainer then eased off him after that, building him up slowly for his return this season – highlighted by two impressive barrier trial victories.
Aerohappiness jumps into Class Three for the Guangzhou Handicap (1,200m) and he has drawn perfectly in barrier three.
Zac Purton was in the saddle for both trials but given he will carry just 116 pounds, Karis Teetan gets to climb aboard on race day.
In contrast to Pakistan Friend’s race, there looks to be plenty of speed in this contest with Handsome Bo Bo (Purton) and Best Step (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) more than capable of matching motors up front.
With Size being patient and giving Aerohappiness extra time to strengthen up and mature, it should make him a better horse in the long-term (and probably better than all the horses he meets here), but the question remains – will he be fit enough to win on Sunday?
The evidence so far this season suggests not, but if anyone is going to buck the trend, it makes sense it would be the 10-time champion trainer.