He will be without the jockey who has partnered him to five of his six wins, but trainer David Hall is confident Beluga can make his presence felt all the same in Tuesday’s Class One Chinese New Year Cup (1,400m) at Sha Tin.
With reigning champion jockey Zac Purton opting to partner the Frankie Lor Fu-chuen-trained Healthy Happy, it will be Matthew Poon Ming-fai in the saddle as Beluga steps back to the trip of his most recent win in November following a second over a mile last start.
“Obviously, Zac was going to take the class horse in the race. He probably thinks Beluga is on his ceiling a little bit. But it’s a handicap race, and with a good draw and a good run, you still get your chance,” Hall said of Beluga, who jumps from barrier two in the 10-horse contest.
“As he gets higher in the ratings, and the fields get stronger, barriers become a lot more important. He’s been back up to Conghua. He’s had a trial up there, and he seems like he’s in form. Barrier two and a good run in the race – he’ll be competitive.”
Lor is hoping the addition of Purton can help Healthy Happy to his first victory since his win in the Group Three Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1,400m) on New Year’s Day last year after his six-year-old was a nice second behind the superstar jockey and Lucky Sweynesse in the same race this year.
“Last time, he ran well, and this time he needs to carry a big weight, so the owners wanted me to ask Zac to see if he could ride and he said ‘OK’,” Lor said.
“After the [Chinese Club Challenge Cup] everything was good, and we were always looking for the Chinese New Year Cup. We always want to win a race for the owners, and we thought this race would be better [than the Group One Stewards’ Cup on January 29].”
Lor also saddles up Winning Dreamer, who will tackle 1,400m for the third time in his career after two moderate performances at the trip.
“Last race over 1,200m, he came from behind, and I thought 1,400m would be better for him at this moment. I’ll try again – we tried 1,400m twice before, but I think now is the time to try again,” the championship-leading trainer said.
Also among a strong field are Blaze Warrior, Fantastic Treasure, The Golden Scenery and The Irishman, while Michael Chang Chun-wai thinks his best horse – Family Folks – might need a run before producing his best after not racing since October.
“Unfortunately, he had some clinical problems in November, which put him back a bit. It’s his first time stepping up to 1,400m and we will see. Honestly, I think he might need one more run and it’s a difficult race,” Chang said.
Rounding out the line-up are Circuit Stellar and Mr Ascendency.