Social media was alight on Saturday afternoon regarding the withdrawal of Classic Cup favourite Golden Sixty, however the man in the know Francis Lui Kin-wai quickly poured cold water on the flames.
Lui confirmed his dominant Classic Mile winner had come down with a fever overnight but said he had not yet withdrawn his four-year-old from the race.
With the HK$10 million event still two weeks away, Lui has time on his side but said he was not going to rush his prodigious galloper through his programme to get him up for the race.
“He has come down with a fever but we won’t be making a decision on it until Monday,” he said.
With a dearth of races available for the 112-rated star, Lui could face a tough juggling act to get Golden Sixty to the Derby in top shape considering he is yet to race over further than 1,600m.
Should he miss the Classic Cup later this month, it is likely he would be forced to go in to the March 22 Derby fresh, potentially with just a barrier trial or two to tune up.
Golden Sixty’s potential scratching would throw the doors wide open in the race, leaving Lui’s stablemate More Than This the likely favourite after his slashing second placing in the Classic Mile.
Champion jockey Zac Purton recently unseated Englishman Ryan Moore from the ride.
Curious onlooker at Sha Tin
Punted lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu was a curious spectator at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The controversial pro-Beijing figure emerged from the stands ahead of the Class Two Choi Hung Handicap (1,200m) to watch Hong Kong Bet run ninth in his return to racing.
What makes Ho’s appearance at Sha Tin interesting is the fact that he handed in his part-ownership in the talented four-year-old recently.
Only owners and their invited guests were allowed at Sha Tin, with the Jockey Club attempting to crack down on the spread of the coronavirus.
It was Hong Kong Bet’s first race this season after the Jockey Club were forced to cancel a race meeting on September 18 when Ho refused to withdraw the horse despite threats from pro-democracy protesters that they would target the meeting because of his controversial standing among the community.
The Tony Cruz-trained galloper had been stranded in Conghua, with the horse unable to race as long as Ho’s name was attached to the ownership.
The Class Two feature was taken out by one-time Hong Kong Derby contestant Gold Chest, who continued his reinvention as a sprinter.
The British import was brought to Hong Kong after winning two starts in his home country – including a Listed race over a mile at Newmarket – and after finishing down the track in the Derby, has found more success since trainer Richard Gibson targeted shorter trips.
He landed his maiden Hong Kong win over 1,400m on the opening day of the season and on Saturday flashed home to pip Duke Wai by the narrowest of margins at $24 under the guidance of Matthew Poon Ming-fai.
Jockey Club dodges bullet
Things may seem grim for Hong Kong racing so far this season but the Jockey Club had a significant political win this week.
The Hong Kong Government has determined that Jockey Club trucks will continue to be able to pass through the border from China unaffected despite a recent policy imposing a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from the mainland in an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The decision means the Jockey Club will still be able to move horses from its mainland facility in Conghua to Sha Tin seamlessly.
“It is recognition for the importance of the Greater Bay Area and the fact that the club has a bubble to bubble policy in place,” Jockey Club director of racing business and operations Bill Nader told The Post.
“These guys go through the border and hardly get off the truck so I think it is a good, sensible decision – we are happy that was the outcome given the circumstances.
“The guys are seriously bubble to bubble, they don’t really leave the biosecurity area.”
The ruling means the Jockey Club trucks will continue to be considered “freight”.
Despite the positive news, the Jockey Club will continue to encourage dual-site licensed trainers to stable more horses at Sha Tin, raising their horse limit from 45 to 51.
“It looks like there will be less [trips], we have increased the capacity here at Sha Tin so that will automatically result in a decrease in horse and people movement,” Nader said.
“We are working hand in hand with the government, we understand what they are trying to do and we are trying to comply.”
Beauty Stays home, for now
Beauty Generation is set to defend his crown in the Group One Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m), with his trainer John Moore confirming his start in the race.
The ageing warrior has won the race two years running but question marks arose over whether he would head there for a third straight season, with the champion galloper no longer at his dominant best.
While Moore said he was set to line up in the Group One feature next Sunday, it is still unclear whether he will make the trip to Dubai in March.
Regardless of his results, this season is set to be the seven-time Group One winner’s last in Hong Kong with retirement looming large.
Schofield back with a bang
Chad Schofield announced his return from suspension in the best possible manner at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The 25-year-old missed eight consecutive meetings throughout January after being hit with multiple charges but hardly skipped a beat in his first meeting back.
Schofield piloted the Tony Cruz-trained Circuit Three to a dominant victory in the Class Three Lei Yue Mun Handicap (1,400m).
The five-year-old bolted in by three-and-a-half lengths under Schofield with plenty left in hand.
Loyal galloper goes Above and beyond
Beauty Loyal capped off an impressive treble for jockey Joao Moreira in the last race of the day at Sha Tin. The Brazilian also saluted on Excel Delight and Fantastic Show, while it was the second leg of a double for trainer Tony Cruz, who also tasted success with Circuit Three.
Not in picture is the Douglas Whyte-trained odds-on favourite Farhh Above, who was a tragedy beaten.
Vincent Ho had no luck from the 500m to the 100m, unable to find any clear running, before rattling home late. That was no consolation to punters, who had to watch the $1.70 chance go down in flames.