Connections of Hong Kong’s highest-rated galloper without a local victory are hoping he switches off early, switches on late and wins Sunday’s Class Three (Restricted) Lung Fu Shan Handicap (1,600m) at Sha Tin that doubles as a Classic Mile trial.
Viva Chaleur joined Caspar Fownes from Andre Fabre after winning a Longchamp 1,300m maiden on debut and placing in three consecutive two-year-old black type races, one of which was the 2021 Group One Prix Morny (1,200m) at Deauville, when Trident was his name and Mickael Barzalona was his rider.
Jockey Club handicappers allocated a rating of 82 to Viva Chaleur on his arrival in Hong Kong, and they raised the four-year-old entire’s mark to 84 following his second-up fourth in last month’s Class Two Highland Reel Handicap (1,400m).
Fownes, whose Classic Series hits include Lucky Nine (2011 Mile) and Sky Darci (2021 Derby), is confident Viva Chaleur’s rating will exceed 100 after he puts it all together.
“He’s a progressive horse, but he’s still a little bit on the chewy,” Fownes said.
“He wants to jump and get on with things. He hasn’t really understood what we’re asking of him, but once he starts to drop the bit and be more relaxed in his races, we’ll see a horse who’ll definitely get to triple figures.”
Seven furlongs is the longest distance over which Viva Chaleur has raced – he was the runner-up in the 2021 Group Two Somerville Stakes at Newmarket – so the Lung Fu Shan Handicap’s mile will be a serious test of his Classic Series credentials ahead of its first leg on January 29.
“He hasn’t been at this trip ever,” Fownes said.
“He’s drawn 11. We’ll be snagging him and switching him off. Hopefully, he’ll work with Hughie and give us a chance to see him hit the line strong.”
Bowman, who becomes the third jockey to ride Viva Chaleur in a Hong Kong race after Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and Christophe Lemaire, trialled and galloped his new assignment during the past two weeks.
“His credentials would suggest the mile is going to be more to his liking [than 1,400m],” Bowman said.
“I’d have liked to have drawn really soft with him. He’s a horse who really does need to be switched off and relaxed early. The draw probably forces us to go back, so we’re hoping there’ll be a genuine pace up front.”
Viva Chaleur faces a full field of 14 opponents in the Lung Fu Shan Handicap, which is the exclusive domain of four-year-old gallopers.
Among Viva Chaleur’s rivals are David Hayes-conditioned imported mare Bon’s A Pearla and John Size-prepared privately purchased griffin Sweet Encounter, the latter of whom has won four races and placed second in his other outing.
“She’s going nicely in the morning, and she ran a good race last time out, finishing fourth,” said Bon’s A Pearla’s new pilot, Silvestre de Sousa.
“She’s a nice ride to have, and she should be competitive.”
“He’s got a good style. He gets up on the speed and keeps himself out of trouble,” said Zac Purton, who continues his association with the equal top weight, Sweet Encounter.
“He’s had a couple of soft wins. He’s lightly raced and he’s still on the way up, but he’s got to prove himself again on the weekend.”
Purton’s book of nine Sha Tin rides also includes Superb Capitalist, with Tony Cruz’s clock-smashing debut winner on a third-up recovery mission in the Class Three Tin Wan Shan Handicap (1,200m).
“We were all a bit surprised,” Purton said of Superb Capitalist’s second-up shocker at $1.20 under Angus Chung Yik-lai.
“We all expected a little bit more, but he did do quite a lot of work during the middle stages after being a little bit slow out of the gates. He’s a young horse. It was only his second run. We’re not going to be too tough on him. He didn’t get beat far.”
A couple of Superb Capitalist’s fellow Tin Wan Shan Handicap runners, Douglas Whyte’s Dragon’s Luck and Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s Mighty Stride, bring perfect two-from-two records to the card-closing contest.
“We’ve had an opinion of him from day one,” said Dragon’s Luck’s rider, Lyle Hewitson.
“Winning on debut from a wide draw was impressive, but to step up in class, from a wide draw again on what turned out not to be a front-runner’s track, and pull off another victory. That was really promising.”