Rookie trainer Jimmy Ting Koon-ho and jockey Grant van Niekerk will return to the scene of their opening-day triumph this weekend when they try to go back-to-back with Triumphant Jewel.
The eight-year-old warhorse of 68 starts provided the fairy tale of the first meeting of the new season when he stormed down the Sha Tin straight to win at what was both Ting and Van Niekerk’s first start in Hong Kong.
Before joining Ting’s yard, Triumphant Jewel had won just one of his past 34 starts over the two previous seasons. The gelding’s opening-day win saw his rating jump five points, pushing him back up into Class Three company.
The San Francisco Handicap (1,000m) boasts a competitive field, though, with fellow opening day winner Goko lining up again alongside the likes of Jing Jing Win, Lockheed, Little Bird and Nice Fandango.
Trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong has kept the faith with jockey Eddy Lai Wai-ming after his fast-finishing win aboard Goko down the Sha Tin straight.
The five-year-old was slow to jump and forced to sit off the speed for most the trip before peeling out and coming down the centre of the track while many scrambled for superior ground on the outside rail.
The first race of the 2018/19 Hong Kong season goes to Triumphant Jewel, the first ever runner for freshman trainer Jimmy Ting and the maiden Hong Kong ride for South African jockey Grant Van Niekerk #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/J8ahIqlrWb— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) September 2, 2018
Despite finding many of their beaten opponents again in the same class, both Yip and Lai will find it much harder this time around, carrying an extra six pounds due to a ratings boost.
The pair has drawn the much-desired barrier 12 for the straight race, which should allow Goko to sit slightly closer to the speed – a position a handful of horses could be expected to fight for.
Champion jockey Zac Purton will climb aboard Jing Jing Win as he attempts to comeback strong after a five-month lay-off due to a bone injury in his front left leg.
The HK$8.5 million purchase sent punters into a flurry in the 2016-17 season when he comfortably won at the prohibitive odds of $1.5 and $1.6 before tasting defeat for the first time after jumping as a $1.3 favourite.
Remarkably, the then four-year-old gained 32 rating points in the space of just five starts.
After hitting a peak rating of 84 in Class Two company, Jing Jing Win now finds himself back in Class Three with a rating of 77.
A Happy Valley trial earlier this month over 1,000m suggests the David Hall-trained gelding could be back to his best after running on strongly under a tight hold from Purton.
Former English boom two-year-old Lockheed finds himself in Class Three company for the first time in his Hong Kong career after arriving with an 88 rating following Group One and Group Two placings in Europe.
After disappointing last season – including running 10th in the Hong Kong Derby and ninth in the Classic Mile – the grey trialled well earlier this month, giving hope to backers that the four-year-old has rediscovered his devastating turn of speed.
The gelding, which cost New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun HK$9.83 million at auction, has undeniable talent – he ran third behind the Aidan O’Brien-trained Churchill in the Group One National Stakes in 2016 before making his way to Hong Kong.
Churchill went on to win the English 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas as a three-year-old.