Hong Kong Briefing - Graham Cunningham's weekly wrap of the racing scene

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Graham Cunningham brings us the latest from the Hong Kong racing scene as the fascinating jockeys' title race resumes at Happy Valley.

Level pegging as title race heads into the Valley

All square with 16 meetings to go. That's how things stand at the top of the HK jockeys' table after a Sha Tin Sunday which saw Joao Moreira outscore Zac Purton 3-1 to end the day level with his arch rival on 117 winners.

The remaining fixtures spread over eight weeks will feature around 150 races and, given their normal strike rates, Moreira and Purton can be expected to ride the winners of a third or more of that total between them.

Moreira has a one-day suspension to serve (May 27th) and sums up the situation by saying "Zac can't say he's going to be the winner and neither can I because we don't know what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks and months."

Shorter term, the big two head to Happy Valley with nine rides apiece on Wednesday - and the Aussie's prowess at the city venue means he now leads Moreira by 50-31 over the season at the city track.

Fownes the new man in Aethero's corner

Trainer Caspar Fownes

Add Aethero's name to the long list of promising young heavyweights who end up with a new trainer after a couple of bruising defeats.

The powerful three-year-old looked to have the world at his feet when bounding clear of HK's best 1200m horses in November but regressed in three subsequent runs and bled badly when well beaten in the Chairman's Sprint Prize last month.

The switch from John Moore to Caspar Fownes - flagged up in a weekend Instagram post by Fownes' son Ryan - was confirmed on Monday and Aethero's new handler is hoping the experience he gained with a previous star will stand him in good stead.

Lucky Nine overcame various bleeding issues to become a multiple G1 winner with Fownes at the helm and the colourful handler told the South China Morning Post that he is "up for the challenge" of reviving Aethero.

"I've had a lot of success with horses with bad internal issues over the years," he said. "We know what talent he's got and if we can get him over his internal issues we're going to have a horse we can have a lot of fun with."

High road risky in Valley feature

A hot Class 2 sprint tops the bill at Happy Valley's Wednesday fixture and the draw is an obvious starting point for the Ho Chung River Handicap (3.50).

Several horses have defied wide gates in Valley sprints of late but, when the rail is wide in the C+3 position, the data is telling. Horses drawn 10-12 are a combined 6-217, while stalls 1-6 boast a combined hit rate of better than two in three when the rail is out.

Those stats are a potential concern for bang-in-form horses like This Is Class and Winning Method in stalls 11 and 10 and trying to get across early looks a risky play given that the speedy Larson is the horse immediately inside them.

Purton's Star on the rise again

Amazing Star - more to come

Larson is thriving for John Moore after a commanding Valley 1000m success which saw him dominate from stall 12 on the B course. He wasn't pressured on the lead but clocked the fastest closing split of the night despite being geared down and the step up to 1200m shouldn't be a concern.

Vincent Ho has chosen Shining Gem ahead of This Is Class and stall 3 brings Ricky Yiu's gelding right into the mix. But perhaps the most interesting horse is Amazing Star, who has improved his rating from 58-100 this season by winning four from five over course and distance for Purton, including three over the C+3 track.

Three of those four wins came from the front but Amazing Star proved equally effective stalking the lead on his latest start in March. A cosy barrier trial win last week sets him up nicely for this £220,000 handicap and his easy-going style hints that there may be even better to come.

Tale of Two Bens a sobering one

You don’t have to dig too hard to find clear examples of the financial differences between HK and British racing. Even so, the Tale of Two Bens is a striking one.

Ben Curtis came out swinging before the coronavirus lockdown, clocking up thousands of miles and 68 winners to top the UK table with an impressive 23 per cent strike rate.

By contrast, journeyman Ben So has been rooted to the bottom of the HK jockeys’ table all season with a strike rate that remains under one per cent even after Good View Clarico doubled his seasonal total on Sunday.

It goes against all logic to think the rider at the top of the British table should have earned less than the bloke at the bottom of the HK ladder but the tables don’t lie.

So’s mounts have collected around £640,000 in prize money as against the Curtis running tally of a little under £475,000. And that’s before the effect of imminent cuts in British prize money start to take effect.

So taking the long View as Clarico prevails

Good View Clarico returns in triumph

The dangers of reading too much into jockey changes came into sharp focus with Good View Clarico's Sunday success.

Purton's inability to do the weight opened the door for So, who seized his chance hungrily as Dennis Yip's progressive three-year-old wore down hot favourite War of Courage.

A former champion apprentice best known for riding the winner that secured Yip a trainers' title in the final race of the 2012-13 season, So retires in July to take up a work riding position which he hopes will lead to becoming an assistant trainer and finally a trainer in his own right.

Yip is one of numerous HK handlers who have travelled the same road and the patience So showed to break his long losing run will be valuable in his new project - as the 33-year-old estimates that the entire process could take as much as 15 years!

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