Dirt specialist Elusive State faces being pushed into a ratings no man’s land should he perform well at Sha Tin on Sunday with the 104-rater on the verge of running out of races at home.
The improved six-year-old will line up in the Class Two Chek Keng Handicap (1,650m) on Sunday with a 133 pound top weight thanks to an extended ratings band which allows horses up to 105 to enter.
Should he win the race, Elusive State will run out of all-weather races in Hong Kong with nothing available to horses rated above 105, creating a headache for connections.
While he was outclassed on his unfavoured grass surface last start, racing against the likes of Waikuku and Beauty Generation in the Group Two Jockey Club Mile, jockey Silvestre de Sousa said he was looking forward to getting his chance this time out.
“It wasn’t necessarily the grass, I think it was the company [last start],” De Sousa said. “He is a nice horse but it was a tough race. His best just wasn’t good enough.”
While he has notched up five wins in his short-term stint, De Sousa has struggled to get the same level of support that saw him become some of Hong Kong racing’s hottest property last season.
After winning on him last season in Class Two grade, De Sousa said he believed Elusive State had held his form over a long period of time.
Drawn barrier eight from the brutal 1,650m start, the Brazilian is likely to be forced towards the back of the field with only a short run in to the first turn.
“I won a race last season on him and I have managed to get back on him again,” De Sousa said.
“He has top weight and the gate doesn’t help but he is a different horse on the dirt. He really enjoys racing on it.
“He does feel the exact same, it is amazing, you can tell how much he loves the track. For the time that I have been here, when I have sat on him he hasn’t put a foot wrong.”
The race features a host of well-performed dirt horses, including Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Korea Cup (1,800m) runner Glorious Artist.
The five-year-old announced himself as one of Hong Kong’s premier dirt competitors last season, winning in impressive fashion in Class Two grade, but has failed to recapture his best.
While he put in an admirable performance on the deep sand at Seoul Racecourse in September, the son of Zoffany’s last start was at the unfavourable Happy Valley circuit.
“Glorious Artist has been a little bit disappointing since Korea but I expect he should run better this time,” Lor said. “The 1,650m is a little bit short though, 1,800m should be much better.”
Champion jockey Zac Purton will ride Glorious Artist for the second time since their win together in May.
Glorious Artist’s Korean travelling companion Ugly Warrior will also race, with trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak forced to enter his charge over an unfavourable distance.
The five-year-old was tailed off in the Korea Sprint (1,200m) earlier in the season but has been unable to find a race over the same distance at home since then.
It will be the first time Ugly Warrior has raced further than six furlongs.
Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Derby hopeful Playa Del Puente will have his first all-weather start in Hong Kong, but he is no stranger to the surface.
Formerly trained by Michael Halford in Ireland, Playa Del Puente won three times from three starts on the Dundalk polytrack as a two-year-old, including a Listed win against subsequent Group One performer Western Australia.