The final nail in the coffin of international participation at Champions Day, the Hong Kong government’s citywide Covid-19 testing exercise is now proving the ultimate moving target for Jockey Club officials in their bid to be as prepared as possible for what lies ahead.

The Jockey Club confirmed this week that the locals will have the HK$65 million bounty on offer at Hong Kong’s second-biggest race meeting all to themselves.

The confirmation comes as no surprise – the amount of work that is going into just keeping racing going, coupled with how tough it would be to bring overseas participants into this environment, looked to be more than enough to ensure the second locals-only Champions Day in three years.

Throw in an ever-increasing uncertainty about when the government will implement its compulsory universal testing and any “lockdown” that comes with it and it’s impossible to welcome overseas guests with any confidence.

While Derby looks safe, could HK’s ‘lockdown’ wreak havoc with Champions Day?

Scheduled for April 24, it is far from certain Champions Day will actually happen then.

For a fleeting moment it looked like the Jockey Club would get a chance to plan ahead, with suggestions citywide testing could begin on March 26, last for nine days and involve significant restrictions rather than a full lockdown.

With Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor now suggesting it is not a priority and postponing the exercise to a date to be fixed, just what the future looks like is anyone’s guess.

The Jockey Club is putting plans in place to ensure it can reschedule race meetings as needed and if the testing period had remained March 26-April 3, a meeting on Friday, March 25 and Monday April 4 would have meant losing only one card in a nine-day period.

Southern Legend (right) defeats Beauty Generation during an all-local Champions Day in 2020. Photo: Kenneth Chan

Of course, key to this all is horses still being able to work through any testing cycle – a break in training obviously means an extended break in racing – and with any luck officials can be equally flexible should a new set of dates be tabled.

But while a meeting may be lost to the pandemic for the first time, a prolonged halt to racing seems unlikely. The Jockey Club, with the help of the government, has withstood over two years of Covid-19 and, according to some, the worst of what the fifth wave has to throw at it.

It’s hard to see it stopping now.

Derby field selected

As many as four gallopers will enter the Classic Series for the first time in the BMW Hong Kong Derby later this month.

Captain Win, S J Tourbillon, Champion Dragon and Crossford were among the selected runners released by the Jockey Club on Thursday afternoon, and all will compete in the four-year-old series for the first time.

The 80-rated Captain Win shapes as possibly the most interesting of those, with trainer David Hall confirming the galloper’s appearance in Hong Kong’s most prestigious race will depend on how he performs in Saturday’s Class Two Pat Sin Leng Handicap (1,400m).

Classic Mile winner Romantic Warrior and Classic Cup victor California Spangle head the Derby field with ratings of 101 and are among seven runners who look set to compete in every leg of the four-year-old series.

The others are The Irishman, Classic Cup runner-up Turin Redsun, Ima Single Man, Fa Fa and Rocket Spade.

Rounding out the field are Classic Cup third placegetter Money Catcher, Senor Toba and Mr Ascendency – all of whom missed the Classic Mile and joined proceedings for the second leg.

The Tony Millard-trained Nordic Sky, Douglas Whyte’s Boom Alliance and Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Copartner Elites make up the reserves list.