The Jockey Club will resume cross-border horse movement on Thursday, ending a four-week stalemate that has prevented 272 gallopers situated at Conghua Racecourse from racing in Hong Kong.
The Jockey Club initially cancelled cross-border transport to cooperate with Shenzhen authorities during a universal Covid-19 testing exercise in the city but what was expected to be a five-day hiccup lasted nearly a month because of the pandemic situation on both sides of the border.
Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding confirmed earlier this week an in-principle agreement had been reached with the “relevant mainland government agencies” and confirmation of the opening finally came through on Wednesday.
“It was a matter of them working through the technical issues to implement it and they did that today,” Harding said.
Tsui battles through ‘hardest season’, border impasse closes in on Champions Day
The breakthrough won’t impact Saturday’s Sha Tin fields but six trucks will head to Conghua on Thursday, bringing back runners for next Wednesday’s Happy Valley meeting and the Champions Day showcase on April 24 – including Group One runners Columbus County, Zebrowski, Reliable Team, Lucky Patch and Mighty Giant.
Harding confirmed the gallopers who have been stranded north of the border will be given “a one-time special priority” to ensure they are able to race as soon as possible, while also suggesting there could be additional races added to the programme to clear any backlog.
It’s the second huge boost in the space of a few days for owners after the Jockey Club announced on Tuesday that owners with starters will be allowed to return to the races from Champions Day.
“Due to the fifth wave of the Covid pandemic, race meetings since mid-January have been held in a closed-door mode,” Harding said earlier this week.
“The club recognises that the closed-door race meetings have significantly compromised owners’ experiences and, as an appreciation of the understanding and patience of all of our owners during this difficult period, the club has decided that every owner will receive a 30 per cent discount on the basic livery and transportation costs during the period of January 1, 2022 and April 30, 2022.”
Patch’s luck changes
It’s been nothing short of a roller-coaster season for the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Lucky Patch and the five-year-old is one of the gallopers who will benefit most from the reopening of the border for horse transport.
Lui confirmed on Thursday morning that Lucky Patch is a definite starter in the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m) on Champions Day next weekend, with his speedster due to arrive back in Hong Kong on Friday and Jerry Chau Chun-lok to take the reins on race day.
Lucky Patch right over the top! @zpurton takes out the G2 Premier Bowl, sealing a treble from the first six races on the programme. 🔥 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/ZC8sD5iNst— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) October 17, 2021
It will be Lucky Patch’s first run since December’s Hong Kong Sprint, where the gelding – who was sent off a $3.20 favourite for his first Group One assignment – was part of the horror four-horse fall that marred the city’s biggest day of racing.
Before that mishap Lucky Patch had been in scintillating form, winning twice at Group Two level to put himself right in the conversation around Hong Kong’s best sprinters.
But it’s taken Lucky Patch time to return to full confidence following the fall that saw Amazing Star and Naboo Attack humanely euthanised, with Lui bypassing January’s Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,200m) after his charge was timid in a trial.
Lucky Patch has been in Conghua since January 20 and he missed his intended return in the Group Two Sprint Cup (1,200m) earlier this month as a result of his extended holiday, with Lui keeping him fit with three trials in the past five weeks.