Excellent Fighter, the only horse Australian jockey Jye McNeil won aboard during his frustrating short stint in Hong Kong, puts his unbeaten record on the line under Silvestre de Sousa in Saturday’s Class Four Rose Handicap (1,000m) at Sha Tin.
Not everything went Excellent Fighter’s way during his triumphant debut five weeks ago. He leaned on the outside of his stall and began awkwardly before struggling to obtain clear running when the field, compacted because of the pedestrian tempo of the race’s early stages, accelerated after halfway.
McNeil, who had ridden Excellent Fighter in each of his two November trials, pushed the newcomer through the tightest of gaps, and the pair went on to score by a head from Harry Bentley and Double Show.
“It was expected he’d run well,” said Excellent Fighter’s trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai. “All of his trials had been good. Even with interference, he still managed to win. That was a good effort from the horse and he’s kept improving after the run.
“He should run well again. To me, over 1,000m to draw barrier 11 is good. I’ve no complaints.”
Excellent Fighter is not the only exciting young galloper in Yiu’s stable, with the 2019-20 champion conditioner issuing updates – one positive and one negative – about two of his progressive charges.
On the bright side of things, Yiu has secured the services of Mickael Barzalona to ride Classic Mile contender Voyage Bubble in the first leg of the Classic Series on January 29.
“The jockey who won on Voyage Bubble last weekend [Derek Leung Ka-chun] is booked for another ride. He’s busy in that particular race,” Yiu said.
“I’ve managed to get Mickael Barzalona to come and ride him. He’s coming for that meeting. Besides Voyage Bubble, I’ll give him a few more rides.
“Voyage Bubble is 100 per cent. It’s like he hasn’t had a run. He’ll run well in the Classic Mile.”
It was Barzalona whom Yiu entrusted to steer Mighty Stride on debut two months ago. Unfortunately the impressive winner of his first two starts, who was a tragedy beaten on his third appearance recently, has not experienced the best of luck away from the racecourse, either.
“Mighty Stride had a little setback in Conghua, but he’s still doing well,” Yiu said. “At the moment, I don’t have a plan for him, but he’s on his way up.”
Eighth in this season’s trainers’ premiership on 20 wins, eight runners will represent 65-year-old Yiu across the 10-race programme, including Spirited Express in the Class Two Lily Handicap (1,600m).
A seven-time winner in New Zealand when he was in the care of Jamie Richards, Spirited Express tackles Sha Tin’s 1,600m course for the first time after starting eight times in Hong Kong since June.
Yiu has taken a shine to Spirited Express – who won six black type events, including a couple at Group Two level – before he was exported to Hong Kong.
“Spirited Express is a horse who’s versatile,” Yiu said. “Wherever you want to run him, he’ll run well provided he’s in the right grade. He’s a lovely horse to train. He’s easy to train. He’s good in his box. I think he’ll be competitive over the mile.”