There will be a notable absentee from the winner’s enclosure if Navas Two salutes at Sha Tin on Saturday.
Trainer Richard Gibson left Hong Kong on Tuesday, a few weeks before the end of the season, to attend to some important family matters as well as starting the search for some potential new superstars that he will hope can follow in the footsteps of leading sprinter Wellington.
“I’m going to my son’s graduation this week and I haven’t seen him for more than two years so it’s a big day for the family,” Gibson said.
“But also, from a horse point of view, the number one priority is that we’re currently trying to buy several top private-purchase horses and trying to get some top recruits for next year.”
Despite being disappointed with his stable’s numerical strength, Gibson has dined at the top table this season – winning two Group Ones with Wellington – and he has the outstanding three-year-old Cordyceps Six waiting in the wings to contest some big races next season.
But despite those notable successes, he is not one to get carried away with his performance this term.
“I prefer using the word satisfied rather than delighted,” Gibson said. “It was great to nail the big races on the right days but the key now is getting some more horses into the stable. There’s no hiding it, of course I’d like to have more strength in numbers.”
Navas Two is one of Gibson’s private purchases (previously raced horses) to have done him proud this season, winning three of his first four races in Hong Kong and holding his form well with four top-five finishes in his past four starts.
The four-year-old came within a whisker of picking up a HK$1 million high-achievement bonus when beaten just a short-head by Lucky Sweynesse on his last start and the Class Two Pok Fu Lam Country Park Handicap (1,400m) is his final chance to provide connections with a huge end-of-season windfall before turning five.
There is no denying that defeat last time left Gibson irritated as he expected his runner to be ridden a lot closer to the pace from his good draw.
“There is no hiding the frustration of the last race,” Gibson said. “You don’t expect to be in last position after being drawn in stall one.
“He missed out by a stride but fair dues to the winner as I think he’s a huge tip to be one of the top horses for next year, but I don’t think [jockey] Alexis [Badel] will be looking back on that race with any pride.”
With Saturday’s meeting at Sha Tin the first to feature the new weight scale, with everything rising by two pounds, Gibson was able to enlist the services of title-chasing jockey Zac Purton even before he knew the 85-rated Navas Two would be carrying 123 pounds due to top weight Fantastic Treasure’s mark of 97.
“I know Zac’s a champion but he’s such a fighter and competitor that this could make the difference between being champion jockey and runner-up,” Gibson said of the changes.
Gibson will be watching all the action from Sha Tin early on Saturday morning in Britain and he will also be expecting another good run from Blotting Paper, who attempts to win his second dirt race of the season in the Class Four Tuen Mun Public Riding School Handicap (1,650m).
Ernest Feeling also represents Gibson, lining up in the Class Five Chai Wan Road Handicap (1,200m). He has been expensive to follow this season with six defeats at single-figure prices and it will take a brave punter to follow him in once more.