Antoine Hamelin may be able to make a dream start to his career in Hong Kong, having been handed the ride on Perfect Match (10.45am London time) in the Austin Handicap, the final and most valuable contest on Sunday’s fixture at Sha Tin. The card is to be screened live in Britain on Sky Sports Racing and is expected to attract plenty of interest from fans of horse racing here, starved of local action for weeks and likely to remain so for some time.
The Guardian made a tentative initial foray into Hong Kong tipping on Wednesday’s card at Happy Valley and found it entertaining without being especially rewarding, though the final winner spared our blushes. Sha Tin is not as sharp as Happy Valley, being a mile and a quarter around, and there is generally less trouble in running, though the draw can still play its part. There is a straight five-furlong course which can favour those drawn high, towards the stands’ rail.
Hamelin is among those who may find these thoughts helpful, since he hasn’t ridden in Hong Kong for years and was drafted in from France last month when it became clear that they were in danger of running out of jockeys. Having made it there just before the border closed to incoming foreigners, he has had to spend a fortnight in isolation before being allowed to compete.
Hopefully, he has been studying the form and keeping fit because Perfect Match has an obvious chance. The four-year-old has had six tries over seven furlongs at Sha Tin, yielding five wins and a neck defeat. His career best effort came in January when he made all to win a Class 1 contest.
Given a 62-day break after that, he never got into the argument when stepped back to six furlongs a fortnight ago, his wide draw not helping. But that may set him up for a better effort at his favoured distance, just as a defeat over six appeared to do in November.
Beauty Legacy, the mount of Joao Moreira, will have his supporters, having won a similar race in January. But he has looked regressive since then and it is a concern to see the hood and tongue tie ditched this time.
5.30am No local form to go on here but Smiling Face is a plausible winner on pedigree, being the first foal out of a half-sister to Lily’s Angel and Zurigha, who were both precocious enough to be running in Group races as juveniles. Smiling Face has had three barrier trials and managed to win one.
6.00am It’s been a long slide down the ratings for Roman Odyssey, who started on a mark of 70 when arriving from Australia three years ago and got all the way down to 34 before scoring at the Valley in January. He’d been second on his previous start, so it looks like the step back to the minimum distance has also helped, and the removal of the hood may also have been a factor. This is his first try over five at Sha Tin since June, when he was in a higher grade.
6.30am There has been a recent return to some kind of form by the veteran Amazing Agility, who used to compete at a much higher level. He was a nearest-finish second over this course and distance in February, so it was counter-intuitive to step him back in distance last month. He finished like a train and might only have needed another stride. This could be his day.
7.00am Moreira is legged up for the first time on Noble Desire, who finished powerfully over five furlongs at Happy Valley a fortnight ago. This return to six should help and he may be a value alternative to Good View Clarico, an impressive winner on the straight course last time but not certain to appreciate this extra furlong.
7.30am Another chance here for Moreira, who gets on Leading Fortune after the horse achieved a career best last time, running on gamely over six. The extra furlong can make a difference.
8.00am A few interesting youngsters here, including Chevalier Prince, who could be a threat on this Hong Kong debut. But Colonel looks like one going the right way in light of his second to a hot favourite in mid-March and Zac Purton is an encouraging booking.
8.35am Here’s an early chance for Hamelin to make his mark, as Best For You scored over this course and distance just two starts ago. He could never get in from his wide draw when stepped back to six last time and got carried very wide in the straight, ruining any chance he might have had, but ran on dourly and can do better from stall two.
9.05am In his last five runs at Happy Valley, Naboo Star has shown sustained improvement, twice winning handily and knocking on the door the rest of the time. He needs to show he can reproduce that improvement back at Sha Tin but if so the extra time to make his challenge could be useful.
9.35am With form figures of 1411, Trust Me is not hard to spot. Ditching the hood and fitting blinkers seems to have triggered plenty of improvement and the manner of his two latest wins suggests there is more to come.
10.10am In similar vein, Fantastic Show looks one to stick with, for all that this is a step up in class on his two recent successes, both of which came after the fitting of blinkers. He is much better drawn than an obvious rival in Joyful Heart and, with Moreira back in the saddle, can make it three in a row.