Graham Cunningham is back on the Sporting Life pages as he helps bring us HK Direct, a new bi-weekly feature from Hong Kong.
You Beauty! HK’s star miler on top of the world after latest Sha Tin success
Welcome to part two of HK Direct, our new bi-weekly feature incorporating all the key angles from the Hong Kong beat.
And this edition has a natural starting point after HK’s latest major star confirmed that he ranks upsides the world’s best milers at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Beauty Generation’s three G1 wins last season earned him Horse of the Year honours but John Moore’s gelding has scaled even greater heights this term with two striking handicap efforts, the latest a thrilling defeat of last year’s Derby runner-up Singapore Sling (receiving 16lb) in a star-studded Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy.
All roads lead to December’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile now – with a tilt at the Jockey Club Mile en route – and Beauty Generation’s big-race rider Zac Purton reflected on Sunday’s success before looking ahead to Happy Valley’s Wednesday card and a certain Aussie mare with a potentially historic Cox Plate date this weekend.
Glory is perfect so far but a bold show from Valentine is on the cards
It takes a pretty smart horse to make a winning debut in Class 3 company around the testing Valley 1200m track and, having also won three from three in Australia, Perfect Glory puts an unbeaten record on the line in the Perfect Gear Handicap (3.15 GMT).
A close look at Perfect Glory’s first HK success three weeks ago reveals that he quickened smartly to charge between horses at the end of a rough race and it’s easy to understand why rider Chad Schofield is optimistic about his chances of a follow up.
However, the market won’t miss him from a 7lb higher mark and Double Valentine rates high on the list of win and place alternatives as he bids to confirm that his latest sixth behind Perfect Glory simply doesn’t do him justice.
Tony Cruz’s grey, who finished third in Churchill’s Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown when handled by Dermot Weld in 2016, has proved frustrating in HK so far but would have finished quite a bit closer had he not been caught in traffic at a crucial point last time.
And that isn’t the sole plus point. In-form rider Vincent Ho feels Double Valentine is a more focussed horse since being gelded. He’s also 7lb better off with Perfect Glory, and the prospect of a searching pace can help him go close despite a wide draw in stall 9.
Go-getter Poon can call the tune before his claim runs out
Hong Kong’s leading apprentice has a big night in store at the Valley before he departs the scene for an enforced break.
Matthew Poon lies fourth in the jockeys’ table with ten winners at a very respectable 14 per cent strike rate but his aggressive style doesn’t always find favour with the stewards and tonight’s fixture is his last before a three-meeting ban kicks in.
Poon will have another two-match ban to serve soon after his first suspension ends, but his 5lb claim remains intact until he partners one more winner and Beaut Beaut and Bingo give him solid claims in the Longines Cup (2.15 GMT) and the Windicator Handicap (2.45 GMT) respectively.
Beaut Beaut has run plenty of solid races in the last six months – including when scoring with authority here in June.
He looks poised to enjoy a smooth, stalking run from stall 3 in what should be a fast-run race back over the minimum trip and a repeat of his best form will make him a strong player.
Bingo faces the hottest favourite of the night in Blitzing and clearly has work to do after fading into fifth behind that progressive rival here two weeks ago.
However, the pressure on the early lead could be less severe this time and, with a 7lb pull and the return of Poon’s claim, this might just be a good deal closer than the market suggests.
Global stars on the march as HKIR approaches
Hong Kong’s greatest racing occasion is just a little over six weeks away and the entries for the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races feature any number of potentially compelling storylines.
A typically strong Japanese contingent for four G1 contests worth around 9m sterling is headed by Almond Eye, who has a range of HKIR options after completing the Fillies’ Triple Crown with a dominant performance in the Shuka Sho at Kyoto recently.
Top-class sprinter Trapeze Artist could lead the Australian raiders if a long-running quarantine debate can be settled, while dual Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits would be a fascinating American presence if he bids to transfer his exceptional dirt form to turf.
Aidan O’Brien has entered two Classic winners (Kew Gardens and Capri) as well as July Cup winner US Navy Flag as he looks to add to the mighty Highland Reel’s two HKIR successes, while France has an interesting Mile entrants in Polydream.
French handler Freddy Head was frustrated when his star filly Moonlight Cloud finished unplaced in the Mile five years ago but his Prix Maurice de Gheest winner Polydream was desperately unlucky in the Prix de la Foret over Arc weekend and is one to note if Sha Tin proves her end-of-season destination.
Sizzling Prawn is keeping Clipperton awake at night
Last but not least this Wednesday, a neat signoff from Aussie jockey Sam Clipperton that sums up the thrill of winning one of HK’s biggest sprints.
Clipperton has an old head on young shoulders but there was no mistaking the relief he felt after the exciting Hot King Prawn ended his barren spell in Sunday’s G2 Premier Bowl.
John Size’s freewheeling grey is now rated within 5lb of HK’s very best sprinters after winning his eighth race from nine starts in dynamic style on Sunday.
“It was awesome to be part of Hot King Prawn’s success,” he said.
“He’s a real tradesman who walks around full of confidence, which I love to see in any horse. I’ve watched the video plenty of times since and didn’t get much sleep on Sunday night - I was buzzing like an old fridge!”