Hong Kong racing is five fixtures into the post-Joao Moreira era and any notion that the circuit’s jockeys might be having an easier time of things is proving to be a fallacy. The dynamics have changed but the competition is still intense.
“A lot of people were thinking that it was going to be easier with Joao leaving but I didn’t think so,” Karis Teetan said during a pause from his Monday (24 September) morning routine at Sha Tin.
One look at the jockeys’ premiership table ahead of Wednesday (26 September) night’s eight-race Happy Valley card bears testament to that. Champion Zac Purton sits on five wins, a tally matched by South African newcomer Grant Van Niekerk. On that pair’s heels, with four wins apiece, are Teetan, Derek Leung, Vincent Ho, Victor Wong and Matthew Chadwick.
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“It’s so open and all of the jockeys are working hard to get as many rides as they can, so it’s pretty hard to get lots of good rides,” Teetan observed.
Moreira left Hong Kong at the end of last season, having set records for most wins (145, 168, 170) in three consecutive title-winning seasons before running second to Purton in 2017/18.
Naturally, one thing the Brazilian’s departure has already led to is a broader spread of those “good rides.” Teetan, for one, is seeing the benefit of that outcome, notably through his developing association with Tony Cruz, the handler having stated his intention to leg-up the Mauritian lightweight on dual G1 winner Pakistan Star.
“I’m pretty happy with the way things are going, I’m trying hard to get those good rides. I’m getting some nice chances from good yards and I just need to make sure the ball keeps on rolling,” the rider said.
Teetan rolls into the midweek downtown fixture with five rides ˗ no jockey has a full book. In the finale, the Class 3 Wong Chuk Hang Handicap (1200m), he will side with Alcari (124lb), a horse he has ridden six times ˗ snaring two wins ˗ for longtime ally Ricky Yiu.
“Alcari could be my best; he’s going well. He’s a nice horse and he progessed well last season,” he said.
Teetan partnered Alcari in a 1200m dirt track barrier trial at Sha Tin five days ago. The five-year-old showed enthusiasm for the task as he galloped past the post ahead of the rest in a time of 1m 10.72s – the session’s fastest.
“His trial was very good last week,” Teetan said. “He feels fit and ready, very fresh. I’ve ridden him at the Valley before and things didn’t work out but I think the horse has improved a lot physically and mentally since then. If he can get some luck in the run he’s going to be very competitive, I think.”
Alcari ˗ drawn in gate three ˗ faces 11 rivals, including bottom-weight King Opie (114lb), a winner last start at odds of 1.8 and climbing out of Class 4 for the first time. Trainer Frankie Lor’s four-year-old succeeded in breaking his maiden at his fourth outing when scoring at Sha Tin on opening day.
“He’s up to Class 3 and it is 1200 metres again, but I think later on he will need a little bit further,” Lor said this morning.
“This time, he has the light weight and usually the races at Happy Valley are a little bit weaker than Sha Tin; he’s in good form, so that’s why we have gone for this race. His last run showed me that he had improved.”
Purton was in the plate for King Opie’s breakthrough win, but with that gelding racing off a weight well below his minimum Chad Schofield will take the reins. The Australian ace will instead be aboard the Dennis Yip-trained Starlight (127lb).
“Starlight goes well fresh so the fact that it’s his first run this season is not a problem,” Purton said. “He had one nice trial at the Valley and he’s done a fair bit of work. If he can settle midfield, he’s on a rating again now where he’s well-placed but being drawn 11 isn’t ideal.”
Starlight is rated 74, a mark off which the six-year-old wrapped up a hat-trick over the course and distance last October.
“He could win off 80, I reckon, he just needs the right gate and the right kind of run off that mark; he needs the right tempo – he’s not really a go-forward horse, so he relies on a little bit of pressure early in the race so he can get home,” Purton said.
“He’s a very consistent horse, he always gives his best and he feels like he’s in good enough shape.”
The night’s trophy race is the Class 3 Hong Kong Country Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m). Teetan will ride Amazing Satchmo (115lb), one of three trained by David Ferraris.
“His trial at Happy Valley was okay, the only thing is he’s quite a big horse so maybe the track could be a little bit tricky for him, but with the light weight I think he can finish off strongly,” Teetan said.
The contest also features Red Warrior (124lb), the mount of Purton, and the Schofield-ridden My Ally (133lb), both of which ran on eye-catchingly in a 1200m Class 3 at the track three weeks ago.
The evening’s action starts at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Heung Yip Handicap (1000m) in which Teetan is booked for the Cruz-trained Multimax: “He’s down all the way from Class 3 and he should be competitive in that grade,” he said.
Hong Kong’s Champion Jockey Joao Moreira will fly to Dubai later this week for three rides at the Dubai World Cup meeting on Saturday and the Brazilian ace has nominated Satono Crown in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) as his pick.
“I would be most confident about Satono Crown,” said Moreira, who will also partner Neorealism in the G1 Dubai Turf (1800m) and Taiki Ferveur in the G2 UAE Derby (1900m, dirt). All three are trained out of Japan.
Moreira is seeking a fourth win at the meeting, having steered Hong Kong’s Sterling City (Dubai Golden Shaheen) and Amber Sky (Al Quoz Sprint) to G1 sprint wins at Meydan in 2014, and, last year, the Japanese filly Vivlos to victory in the G1 Dubai Turf.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club will simulcast seven races from the Dubai World Cup meeting, starting at 8.50pm Hong Kong time.
Moreira has partnered Satono Crown once before, to win the G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) at Sha Tin. That was 15 months ago, and since then, the Noriyuki Hori-trained entire has annexed the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) and placed second to the mighty Kitasan Black in October’s G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m).
The six-year-old has also disappointed, when down the field in the G1 Japan Cup (2400m) and G1 Arima Kinen (2500m) at the end of the year, but heads into the Dubai showcase a fresh horse having not raced since. Moreira, though, believes the form of his Sha Tin win over a Coolmore heavyweight would be enough to see off his weekend rivals.
“When I rode him to win the Hong Kong Vase, that was a very impressive performance and ever since then I’ve had a high opinion of him,” Moreira said.
“If Highland Reel was in this race, he’d be favourite, and Satono Crown beat Highland Reel in the Vase, so that ability that he has, I’d have him as my best ride.”
Moreira believes his mount in the UAE Derby, Taiki Ferveur, could be something of a dark horse. The Mitsunori Makiura-trained three-year-old is a two-time winner over 1800m on dirt in Japan, and prepped with a smart second at Listed level over 1600m at Tokyo in February.
“Usually, the UAE Derby is suited to the local horses because they’re so used to that track,” Moreira said. “But what I like about the horse is that he’s used to the deep sand in Japan. Horses have to be tough to race on that sand in Japan because the tracks are very tough, and he’s been running consistently well. I have good hopes for him.”
The Brazilian ace is also looking forward to partnering Neorealism again. The rider took out last year’s G1 QEII Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin aboard the Hori charge, and was in the plate when the chestnut placed third to Time Warp in December’s Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
But while he expressed that he will head to Dubai with confidence in all three of his Meydan mounts, he is also remaining grounded.
“We all have our feet on the ground knowing that we’re going to face some of the best horses and some of the best professionals in the world. It’s nice to be part of the game and I know I’ve got some really nice horses,” he said.
Before then, Moreira will be in Hong Kong action at Happy Valley on Wednesday (28 March) night, when he will attempt to increase his lead over Zac Purton in the title race, with his rival sidelined through suspension.