A host of Hong Kong’s best dirt horses step out in Saturday’s Class Two Leighton Handicap (1,650m) at Sha Tin and trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai will be hoping he has a galloper who can slot into that top echelon in Righteous Doctrine.
The four-year-old is having his first start in Hong Kong after arriving at Sha Tin from France in October and looks set to be right at home on the all-weather track after winning twice on the similar polytrack of his homeland.
Chang has wasted no time getting Righteous Doctrine, who is already his third-highest rated horse at 82, to the races and he looked sharp in the second of his two Hong Kong trials on January 4, suggesting he has settled in well to his new surroundings.
The colt posted three wins and a further two placings from eight starts in France – including a win at his last start in August – and was unplaced three times at Group level, finishing seventh in the Group One Poule d’Essai des Poulains at Longchamp in May last year.
He has won at 1,500m and 1,900m on the polytrack, suggesting the 1,650m on Saturday should pose no issues.
Alexis Badel rode Righteous Doctrine in both his trials and had initially been booked to ride the horse by Chang, however the jockey is unable to fulfil his commitments on Saturday after suffering a minor fracture in his left wrist as a result of his fall from Simply Brilliant at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
Matthew Chadwick picks up the ride and Chang’s charge will have his work cut out first-up against a strong field, with dirt specialists Fight Hero and Raging Blitzkrieg among the top chances.
Zac Purton will ride Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Fight Hero for the first time in what shapes as a Dubai trial for the horse, who surprised even his trainer with a gallant second over 1,200m on the deep sand of Seoul in September but has had somewhat of a disjointed preparation since.
He finished a long last in a 1,400m turf race in November before a return to his favourite surface for a fourth over 1,200m last month and Tsui will be hoping for further improvement here.
Tsui has entered the eight-year-old for the Group One Golden Shaheen [1,200m] and is waiting to see if he will get a run, and the booking of Purton suggests the champion jockey will also partner Fight Hero abroad all going well.
Another interesting runner is Tony Millard’s red-hot gelding Elusive State, who comes into the race on the back of four consecutive victories.
Elusive State turned the corner late last season for Derek Cruz after producing only one win in his first 21 starts for the trainer, winning twice in three starts before Cruz bowed out at the end of the term.
The five-year-old has now won three from three for Millard but steps up to Class Two for this first time, however with the bottom wait of 113 pounds at the course and distance of his last two wins, Elusive State could well notch up another.