John Size’s classy three-year-old Country Star will be tasked with his toughest project yet when he steps into Class Two company at Sha Tin on Tuesday.
The gelding has raced solely at Happy Valley in his five-start career to date but such has been his progression through the grades, Size will start him at Sha Tin for the first time.
While the champion trainer remains wary of over-racing his young star, he said he deserves his chance in Class Two after not putting a foot wrong to date.
“He seems an honest little horse, he hasn’t done anything wrong and there’s no reason he wouldn’t handle Sha Tin,” he said.
“He hasn’t been tried before at [Sha Tin] so he hasn’t failed. There’s plenty of competition, he’s in Class Two, which is hard work for a three-year-old. But he probably deserves a shot.”
As Size’s newly retained stable jockey, Joao Moreira will ride the son of Starcraft for the first time after both Zac Purton and Hugh Bowman have won on him.
While Country Star has a three-from-five winning record, he will go head-to-head with Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Regency Legend who produced a breathtaking four-length victory on debut.
Such was Regency Legend’s dominance, his official time of 1.08.89 in the Class Three 1,200m race on Hong Kong International Races day was only a shade outside Mr Stunning’s Group One winning time of 1.08:85 two races later.
Country Star will also be forced to jump from the widest barrier in the Class Two Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1,200m).
Size will also saddle up his impressive four-year-old series hopeful Waikuku, who is looking to bounce back from a hard-fought second on debut.
The European import did all but win in his first-up attempt in Hong Kong after travelling wide for much of the trip, before missing out in a head-bobbing photo finish.
After running on strongly in that race, Size has decided to step him up to 1,400m in the Class Three Sunset Peak Handicap.
“He was a little bit unlucky and the track condition was problematic, it was a little bit rough,” he said.
“I expect him to run well again, there’s no reason why he should take a step backwards. The 1,400m may be a little bit more suitable and now that he’s had the experience of the races at Sha Tin, he may go a little better.
“He’s only had two starts in his life so it’s obviously hard to predict where he’s going but he seems honest and he seems happy to be in Hong Kong. I think he will run well again.”
Meanwhile, trainer Chris So Wai-yin will be looking to continue his good form after collecting his 200th career winner on Saturday with former Australian galloper Hinchinlove.
A year ago the then three-year-old was preparing for a tilt at Magic Millions riches on the Gold Coast, Australia, but now in Hong Kong, So is hoping he can break through for his maiden win against the likes of Country Star and Regency Legend.
Coming to Hong Kong with rating as high as 82, many horses find it difficult initially to find their feet but So says he has been encouraged by the early form of his gelding.
“He’s come from Australia with a high rating so it always makes it hard early on, we don’t have a win yet but I hope he can run well,” he said.
“The PP’s in Hong Kong are not easy, not too many come and keep going up but I think he is one that’s almost there.
“I picked the horse, I showed it to the owner, I thought he was the best buy because he was not too expensive for what he had.
“We’re lucky because when the horse came to Hong Kong, he showed something straight away, he hit the line strongly, after that he had a race over 1,000m but it is too short.”