Hong Kong Bet returns to the racetrack at Sha Tin on Saturday, less than a week after the Jockey Club confirmed former lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is no longer among the ownership group of the Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old.
Hong Kong Bet has not raced since winning in July after being the reason the Jockey Club had to cancel a meeting on September 18, with the polarising Ho refusing to withdraw the horse despite protesters declaring they would target the meeting.
The pro-Beijing figure created controversy when publicly defending the white-clad men who indiscriminately attacked pro-democracy demonstrators and commuters at Yuen Long station in July.
Hong Kong Bet was sent to Conghua on September 20 and was only brought back to Sha Tin by Cruz once Ho was bought out by co-owners Wilson Ho and Bruce Lee Sing-keung.
“Once the club told me I could go, I entered him [in the first suitable race],” Cruz said ahead of the gelding’s appearance in the Class Two Choi Hung Handicap (1,200m).
“His best performances have always been at Happy Valley over 1,000m but I’m sure he can run 1,200m.”
There have been some questions raised about how the resolution with Ho was reached and the timing of it – the coronavirus lockout means protesters will be unable to impact Sha Tin even if they wanted to – but Cruz has distanced himself from the process.
“I stay out of the politics and stick to my horses,” he said.
Hong Kong Bet has trialled six times during his exile in Conghua – winning three of them – but Cruz expects him to need the run on Saturday.
“He’s first-up and I don’t think he’s in any racing condition. It’s his first run of the season and I don’t think he’s 100 per cent yet,” he said.
“He’s a perfectly sound horse and he’s won some trials in Conghua, but he needs to be racing to reach his peak.”
Keith Yeung Ming-lun will ride Hong Kong Bet for the first time and the pair jumps from barrier seven in a hot race that features last-start winners Voyage Warrior and Duke Wai, as well as progressive gallopers Beauty Applause and Computer Patch.
Duke Wai is chasing his fifth consecutive victory and had trainer Paul O’Sullivan recalling his Group One-winning sprinter Aerovelocity, who strung together five on the trot on his way through the grades.
“It’s not easy to do in Hong Kong, the handicappers make sure of that,” O’Sullivan said.
Duke Wai answered his doubters with an impressive showing when up in class and distance last time out and only carries an additional four pounds for his second outing in Class Two.
“A lot will depend on the pace in the race. He’s drawn out at nine and he’s going to get back out of it a bit so his performance will be pretty much be pace dependent, but there looks to be some speed if it all maps out as it usually does,” O’Sullivan said. “Every time you win, you get one closer to a defeat but I think he holds his own in Class Two.”