Happy Valley marks its first fixture of 2019 this Wednesday with its sole Group race – namely the January Cup over 1800m at 1.45.
The G3 contest has drawn an exceptional field, with four horses rated 120 or higher by the Hong Kong handicappers attempting to give plenty of weight to a G1 import from South Africa and several familiar faces to British and Irish viewers.
Ten face the starter chasing £320,000 in prize money. The whole meeting will be live on Sky Sports Racing and, as ever in Hong Kong, pace and track position will prove very significant.
Pace: Time Warp has excellent early speed and even from gate 10 it’s hard to see anything leading him into the first bend. The question thereafter is how much pressure will Joao Moreira apply aboard Insayshable? Northern Superstar and Southern Legend should be close up in the chasing group, along with Simply Brilliant, while Citron Spirit, Dinozzo and Horse of Fortune are likely to be held up. Gold Mount and Eagle Way are strong stayers without great early speed and run the risk of being poorly placed if Zac Purton is allowed to dictate on Time Warp.
Thrived for Sir Mark Prescott and has developed into an exceptional if hit-and-miss front runner in Hong Kong, numbering two G1 wins among six successes and breaking the track record here on his sole run over course and distance. Beaten to the punch early and couldn’t lead when third behind younger brother Glorious Forever in bid for back-to-back wins in the Hong Kong Cup last time but did enough to suggest he is in good heart and will be very dangerous here if allowed anything like an easy lead.
Time Warp finishes third in the Hong Kong Cup
Swooped out wide to win this with authority under Purton last year and has developed into one of Hong Kong’s best stayers since, relishing a fierce pace to land a G2 at Sha Tin in November then staying on well for fourth in the 2400m G1 Hong Kong Vase. Clearly in great form but is now rated 14lb higher than last year and probably needs a true gallop to bring his undoubted stamina fully into play back at this shorter trip.
Eagle Way lands last year’s January Cup
Unbeaten in two runs over 1200m here and has since developed into a high-class miler at Sha Tin without ever threatening the outstanding Beauty Generation. Ran close to his very best behind that rival when third in the Hong Kong Mile last time – and has gained weight since - but this is his first attempt at 1800m and no guarantees that he will improve for it on pedigree, at least.
Royal Ascot winner in 2016 when known as Primitivo for Alan King and has done well in Hong Kong, landing a Class 1 over this trip on his sole Valley start last season. Running with credit against some of the best around this season but was behind Time Warp and Northern Superstar over 2000m last time and his tendency to get behind could make life difficult for Italian rider Alberto Sanna unless the pace is demanding.
Dual G1 winner in his native South Africa and has caught the eye on both his Hong Kong runs, staying on behind Simply Brilliant on his debut then travelling well just off the pace for a long way when fifth behind Glorious Forever (Time Warp third) in the G1 Hong Kong Cup last month. No surprise to see his rating raised by 10lb as a result of that but has a huge weight pull (19lb for just under 2L) with Time Warp and is potentially very well treated if he can adapt swiftly on his first trip to the Valley.
Northern Superstar lands a G1 at Greyville in 2017 when known as Edict of Nantes
Useful handicap form when known as Senator for Richard Fahey in 2016 and has thrived for the excellent Frankie Lor, becoming the first son of Frankel to score in Hong Kong and winning four times including a Class 1 over 1600m at Sha Tin last time. Makes his 1800m debut now but promises to stay this slightly longer trip and ran very well in defeat on his sole previous visit to the Valley.
Simply Brilliant lands his fourth Hong Kong win at Sha Tin
Horse of Fortune
Entering the veteran stage and is proving hard to place. Finished behind several of this field with no apparent excuses at Sha Tin last time and hard to fancy on that evidence.
Ran well for sixth despite being squeezed at an important point in this race last year and returns at the top of his game after two fine efforts (the latest behind up-and-coming Conte) over 1400m at Sha Tin. Runs from 4lb out of the handicap, and looks vulnerable for win purposes, but highly consistent and should run another solid race.
Useful for Ger Lyons in Ireland and has developed into a smart handicapper for John Size, winning a Sha Tin Class 2 narrowly in December and running well there against an exceptional up and comer over 2000m since. Equally effective over this trip at Happy Valley and is a straightforward ride who should get every chance with Moreira aboard from the inside draw.
Another useful import from the Lyons academy. Ran very well for third in this last year but has found the going tough in strong company of late. Moreira has swerved him in favour of Insayshable and faces a tough task from 6lb out of the handicap.