A lack of runners in the better races at Sha Tin on Sunday may well be the first thing that most punters notice when their attention turns to studying this weekend’s card.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club had hoped that the usual movement of horses between Conghua and Sha Tin would resume on Tuesday after a brief hiatus as a result of the coronavirus testing regime in Shenzhen, but that optimism proved unfounded and forced a host of withdrawals as horses entered to run on Sunday were unable to return.
David Hall and Ricky Yiu Poon-fai were among the trainers worst hit by the border shutdown and their scheduled representatives in the two biggest races at Sha Tin on Sunday are among those stuck in Conghua.
But one man’s setback is another man’s opportunity and there will be plenty of trainers looking to capitalise on the absence of some likely market leaders in the most valuable races.
Yiu’s Soulmate would have been well found by punters in the Class Two Cheung Shan Handicap (1,600m) after he picked up his third victory of the season when winning by two and three-quarter lengths at Happy Valley last time.
He had been raised nine pounds for that win and was entering this grade for the first time but punters now have just eight runners from which to find the winner, with Soulmate joined on the sidelines by California Ten, The Rock and Flying Quest from the original list of entries.
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California Ten’s trainer Tony Cruz will still be represented as he will put a saddle on Beauty Joy, who has won two races and been placed twice in his four starts this term.
The five-year-old has risen 18 rating points since the start of the season and was unlucky not to salute at this level last time when making strong late headway to finish three-quarters of a length behind Cheerful Days.
He may have most to fear from My Sugar if Jimmy Ting Koon-ho’s runner can produce his best.
A four-time winner, he disappointed when finishing sixth last time on his first attempt at this trip but had earlier finished runner-up at this level over 1,400 to suggest he is more than capable of holding his own in this company.
With Hall’s consistent Maldives missing from the original entry list in the Class Three Lai King Handicap (1,400m), Cruz may well be making multiple visits to the winner’s enclosure on Sunday as Copartner Ambition could well follow up his recent course-and-distance success.
Raised seven pounds for that win to a rating of 80, he should be capable of waving goodbye to this level with a victory.
The Class Three Kwai Fong Handicap (1,000m) will feature just seven runners after last-time-out winners Alcari and Eight Trigrams where withdrawn from the final field after being caught up in the transport issue.
They would have been challenging for favouritism but their non-appearance clears a path to victory for the impressive Flying Season.
Manfred Man Ka-Leung’s young sprinter went one better than on debut when running out a stylish winner over this course and distance last start when blinkers were applied for the first time.
He came from a good draw in stall 14 on that occasion but the likely small field should negate any barrier advantage this weekend.