David Hayes is prepared to forgive his boom speedster Nervous Witness after a shock last-start defeat and is backing him in ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s electric sprinter Master Eight at Sha Tin on Sunday.
On a day when the best horses in Hong Kong tune up for the Hong Kong International Races in the three Jockey Club Group Twos, the most intriguing head-to-head contest comes in the Class Two BOC Life Handicap (1,000m) as these two rising stars meet for the first time.
After two brilliant wins to start his career, Nervous Witness stunned punters – and his trainer – when he became just the second horse in Hong Kong this century to go under as a $1.1 favourite when finishing third to Cordyceps Six earlier this month.
“Everyone has a bad day and on his bad day he ran third – he wasn’t that bad,” Hayes said. “The hype might’ve got a bit ahead of him.
“He hasn’t done a lot [since then] but I gave him an easy gallop [on Wednesday] as his final hit-out and Keith Yeung [Ming-lun] rode him in his final gallops before his blockbuster performances and Keith said he felt great.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for what will probably be the favourite in the race [Master Eight], but I would say if there’s a horse in Hong Kong that has the natural ability to test him, it’s this horse.”
Master Eight is undefeated in his three starts, but all of them have come at 1,200m, so the step down to 1,000m is an unknown.
“We’ve got the experience down the straight and he hasn’t,” Hayes said. “He couldn’t have been more impressive in his three runs. The handicapper is a good judge – after two runs my horse was rated higher and after three runs his horse is rated higher. I think they’re both pretty damn good.”
Zac Purton, whose minimum weight is 120 pounds, has been aboard for all three of Nervous Witness’ runs but he’ll be in the jockeys’ room on Sunday with Karis Teetan in the saddle.
“The reason this happened is that we expected to get 113 pounds. It’s one of those anomalies in Hong Kong racing – the way it falls he got 118 [with the highest-rated horse in the race being a 94],” Hayes said.
“So I booked Karis 10 days ago thinking it would be 113 and then when we got 118 I could [have] put Zac on plus-two. If I hadn’t have booked Karis, of course I would’ve put him on.
“But Karis missed out on opportunities because he committed to me so I didn’t want to let Karis down. It’s only temporary, Zac will get straight back on the moment he’s got his weight.”
Nervous Witness has drawn well in barrier seven and Hayes will be instructing Teetan to not get in a speed battle early to ensure he finishes off strongly.
“I’ve looked at the race he failed in a million times, I had that stablemate [Super Axiom] who’s got more cheap speed than any horse in Hong Kong and – I’m not blaming him – but Zac wanted to get across behind him or be with him and he actually matched strides with him and got across very quickly,” the Australian Hall of Fame trainer said.
“I just want to let the race unfold for the first 400m before we get involved. I’m not saying take a sit, but don’t run 19 seconds for the first 400m. Just let him get into a rhythm and see who’s the best horse when he picks up.”
Hayes, who is tied for second in the championship race with 15 winners, also has a presence in the Group Two BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m) with Naboo Attack and Super Wealthy.
“Zac booked himself on [Naboo Attack] after the last-start carnage. He knows how good he is – he rode him when he got beaten but ran the best sectional time of the day when he didn’t get the best of luck,” he said.
“At the weights he doesn’t look well-in but in 12 months I’m hoping he’s going to be a 115-plus [rated] horse anyway.
“Don’t underrate the stablemate [Super Wealthy] either, he’s going well too. That was the day the wind came across the track and the inside horses all got knocked over and he was one that nearly won. He took on the wind bias and did very well. But we are taking on the best sprinter in town [in Wellington].”