Tony Millard has taken up the mantle as Hong Kong racing’s dirt specialist, building an exceptional strike-rate on the surface in the last season and a bit, and it bodes well for Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting.
No one has had more winners on the all-weather track since the start of 2020-21, the South African tasting success on 10 occasions to share that mark with this season’s championship-leading handler Frankie Lor Fu-chuen.
But while Lor is only slightly better on the dirt than the turf – 10 from 67 (14.9 per cent) on the all-weather track and 80 of 657 (12.2 per cent) on the grass – the difference between the two marks for Millard is far more significant.
The 60-year-old has a strike-rate of 20 per cent on the dirt (10 of 50), compared to just 6.3 per cent on the turf (27 of 427).
The surface has been a crucial part of Millard’s haul over that period, providing 27 per cent of his winners. In contrast, Lor’s tally of 10 makes up just 11.1 per cent of his victories.
It’s a similar story for Francis Lui Kin-wai, who is next best with nine winners. He strikes at 10.5 per cent on the dirt (nine of 86) and 10.6 per cent on the turf (54 of 510), with 14.3 per cent of his successes coming on the all-weather track.
So with those sort of numbers in play, punters need to pay close attention to the Millard runners when they step out on Sha Tin’s inner circuit and there are three of them who fit the bill for this weekend’s meeting.
Silver Fig has been the stable’s most prolific performer on the all-weather track in 2021 with three wins from three starts over the 1,200m course and he will compete in the Class Two Carbine Club Of Hong Kong 30th Anniversary Cup.
Matthew Poon Ming-fai retains the ride and he is likely to get back from barrier one before attempting to rattle over the top of his rivals, as has become his custom.
But it will not be easy as the contest is a hot one with Douglas Whyte’s Will Power, the Benno Yung Tin-pang-trained Ka Ying Master and Chancheng Prince, from the Lui yard, all having won their most recent starts on the surface.
Will Power races in a similar fashion to Silver Fig but will have to carry the top weight – even with Jerry Chau Chun-lok’s three-pound claim – Ka Ying Master is racing in good form and will be around the mark while Chancheng Prince has been a revelation in his two runs on the surface – winning both – but they were over 1,650m.
The other stand-out dirt runner for Millard is Ultra Express, who was a last-start winner over the extended mile.
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The son of Power has not missed a place in any of his last eight runs, winning four of them, and he’s drawn perfectly in barrier three for the Class Three Peridot Handicap.
Star jockey Joao Moreira should be able to give him the gun run from there and even with the 133-pound impost, he looks the one to beat.
Elite Patch, Infinite Power and Super Win Dragon might provide the biggest challenges.
Millard’s other competitor to grace the all-weather track is Fortune Patrol, who lines up in the Class Five Jasper Handicap (1,650m), but the seven-year-old will need to improve markedly on his first two runs of the campaign if he is to figure in the finish.
Six of Sunday’s 10 races are on the all-weather surface as officials look to protect the turf and ensure it is in pristine condition for next week’s Longines Hong Kong International Races.