Promising galloper Montreal is primed for a first-up assault down the Sha Tin straight this weekend as trainer Caspar Fownes looks to make good on a disappointing end to last season.
The Australian-bred gelding made many take note last season after comfortably winning a Class Three handicap race over 1,000m as an odds-on favourite in just his second start, however he flopped just two weeks later when stepping up in grade and distance.
Montreal has impressed since returning to work, winning two trials – including one last Friday where he beat home the likes of Hot King Prawn and Patch Baby.
Fownes believes the speedy son of Lonhro is as fit as he could be without a start under his belt this season.
“He’s a big horse, he’s had a couple of decent trials, his fitness is as fit as you can get them first-up, he should run well,” he said.
When pressed on future plans for the horse, Fownes remained coy, saying he would only be prepared to take it “one race at a time” due to him being diagnosed with a heart irregularity before arriving in Hong Kong.
Montreal raced in Australia for champion trainer Gai Waterhouse where he won three of his four starts before being bought by Siu Pak-kwan, who has also imported the likes of Group winning horses Eagle Way and Dinozzo.
“He’s obviously had a heart irregularity back in Australia but he looks really well now,” Fownes said.
“We’ve got to take it each race at a time for him, he’s got his problems so we’ll just go first-up down the straight.”
With a Happy Valley strike rate more than double what he has produced at Sha Tin, Fownes said he was keen to get Montreal to the inner-city track at some point to be tested again over 1,200m.
“I would like to bring him here around the turn,” he said. “They make their own luck when they’ve got that gate speed, they just put themselves there. It’s pretty straightforward, he can handle the turn at the Valley.”
The Class Two Woodpecker Handicap (1,000m) will be no simple task for Montreal, however, with four last-start winners also lining up in the field.
Included in those are Cruising and Mr Lumieres who both are making the step up in grade to begin the season.
The Benno Yung Tin-pang-trained Cruising has had just two starts in Hong Kong after arriving from Adelaide, Australia, earlier this year.
The Class Four Swallow Handicap (1,200m) will also see the return of the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Cordyceps.
The four-year-old shocked punters last season, running an eye-catching third at $96 in his debut before winning next start with Joao Moreira on board.
With Moreira’s departure from Hong Kong, Derek Leung Ka-chun has taken the ride, where he will look to add to his strong start to the season.
First-start winner Looking Good will also return in the same race with Alberto Sanna riding. In his three starts last season, the Frankie Lor Fu-chuen-trained gelding was a model of consistency, with fourth being his worst placing.