Jolly Banner took out the Class One Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1,400m) last year and jockey Chad Schofield is hopeful he can make it back-to-back wins at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained gelding beat Winner’s Way and Horse Of Fortune in last season’s renewal but faces just four opponents this time around.
Schofield has ridden the seven-year-old in three gallops ahead of this contest and is bullish about his chances.
“He’s going very well – we know how good his record is fresh and he’s just that,” he said. “His work has been really, really good and he feels as good as ever.
“It’s a really nice race for him, small field. I like the fact he hasn’t trialled, he is fit enough and he obviously won the race last year so hopefully he can go back-to-back.”
The small field means it is likely to become a tactical race, but that does not concern Schofield.
“Not really because he is such an easy horse to ride – he will be the first horse to leave the gates and he can relax and travel with cover if I want him to,” he said.
“I’ll speak to Ricky and see what we can come up with. The race looks good for him.”
Schofield rates Richard Gibson’s Rattan, who finished second in a Class Two last week, as the biggest danger.
“Definitely Rattan, his run last weekend was very good,” he said. “We are going to have give him a little bit of weight and he is a very nice horse himself, so I think Rattan will definitely be my biggest threat.”
The race only had four entries originally, but Rattan pulled up well from his race so Gibson decided to throw him in when they were reopened on Monday.
After his top run carrying 133 pounds last week, the five-year-old is now rated 101 and the trainer admits he does not have a lot of alternatives.
“It’s probably the worst rating to have as a horse in Hong Kong – we’re rolling the dice again because there are no other race options for the horse,” Gibson said. “It’s close your eyes and roll the dice, that’s all you can do.
“It helps having [Douglas Whyte] on board, it’s a five-horse field so I’ve got the right man for the job.”
Horse Of Fortune, who has joined the Dennis Yip Chor-hong stable in the off-season, is back for another crack with Umberto Rispoli taking the ride, while Romantic Touch (Karis Teetan) and Packing Dragon (Grant van Niekerk) make up the rest of the field.