Picture : Lucky Sweynesse headlines the first Hong Kong meeting of the season at Sha Tin this Sunday (HKJC)
Hong Kong racing returns on Sunday at Sha Tin and Declan Schuster gets you up to speed ahead of the first of 88 scheduled race meetings this season.
Everything you need to know ahead of the new season
Seven weeks (or thereabouts) have passed between seasons and plenty has happened in both Hong Kong and abroad…
Jockey Vincent Ho’s start to the 2023/24 racing season is delayed, trainer Tony Millard announced his departure, Golden Sixty heads to the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile first-up, Andrea Atzeni and Keagan De Melo join the riding roster, Mark Newnham and Cody Mo continue to build their stables, Romantic Warrior enters quarantine for his Australian campaign and Pierre Ng heads to South Korea with Duke Wai and Apache Pass.
Vincent Ho shortened his offseason riding engagements after a fall at Niigata in July, which unfortunately results in a delayed start to the local racing season for the rider. Ho is making a full recovery, thankfully, and is plotting a return to riding on 17 September.
After 709 Hong Kong wins, a pair of Hong Kong Derby triumphs and best known as the trainer of the brilliant Ambitious Dragon, South African Tony Millard announced his departure at the conclusion of last season after arriving in the city over 20 years ago.
The winner of 25 out of 29 starts, including nine at Group 1 level, Hong Kong’s champion Golden Sixty has been slated to return first-up in December’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile – a race he has won twice previously. Traditionally, runners in the race would contest the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile beforehand in November.
Jockey Andrea Atzeni has three wins in Hong Kong and returns this season, citing increased maturity and experience as reasons for his reappearance in the enclave.
“I spent a little bit of time here (in Hong Kong) between 2014 and 2015, it’s a long time ago and I was a lot younger. I’d say mentally, I wasn’t quite ready for it. So coming back here nine years later, I feel like I’ve achieved a lot more around experience and I’ve been lucky enough to ride all over the world.
“When the offer came along, I thought about it quite carefully, I came to a conclusion that it was the right time in my career to come back to Hong Kong and try my luck here,” Atzeni said.
Keagan De Melo is South Africa’s reigning champion rider and joins fellow compatriots Lyle Hewitson and Luke Ferraris with contracts to ride in Hong Kong.
“I’ve settled in quite well. I’ve been here for just under a month, so it’s given me a bit of time to get used to the weather and get my family used to it. It’s all going well so far,” De Melo said.
Mark Newnham and Cody Mo have been busy across the offseason building their new stables as they prepare for their Hong Kong training debuts. Newnham arrives from Australia having built a formidable record Down Under, while Mo has been involved in Hong Kong racing for over 20 years and gets his chance at the big time now.
Preparations have begun for Romantic Warrior’s Australian campaign, with the galloper entering mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong before travelling. He is expected to contest the Turnbull Stakes and W.S. Cox Plate in Melbourne, Australia – both races are run at Group 1 level.
Armed with a strong team accepted at Sha Tin’s season opener on Sunday, 10 September, live on Sky Sports Racing, trainer Pierre Ng is instead in South Korea overseeing preparations for his duo – Apache Pass and Duke Wai – to contest the Group 3 Korea Cup and Group 3 Korea Sprint, respectively. Both races are run on sand. Ng has seven entries at Sha Tin and looks set for a big afternoon. Greenwich, Fortune Warrior, Good Boy and Bon’s A Pearla all look to have serious chances, with Greenwich shaping as the pick of the bunch after his impressive win last season.
Lucky Sweynesse headlines 2023/24’s first fixture
Lucky Sweynesse stretched out impressively in a barrier trial on Monday morning (4 September) ahead of his first start for the new season on Sunday (10 September) in Sha Tin’s Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup run over six furlongs, live on Sky Sports Racing.
The galloper stepped out under jockey Zac Purton to cross the line in unison with Victor The Winner on Monday, who also features in this weekend’s feature contest.
“I thought he felt good in his trial, he seems like he’s a more mature horse this season. He’s handling things really well, he seems to be working well for where he’s at in his preparation,” Purton said.
“His trial was good – of course, he pulled up and had a big blow and he’s going to improve and he needed the trial but for where he’s at this stage, he’s doing what we need him to do.”
The three-time Group 1 winner ended a superb campaign last term with Hong Kong Champion Sprinter honours and eight wins overall – an equal single-season record for victories with Beauty Generation.
As the contest’s highest-rated horse, Lucky Sweynesse will carry 135lb, while Victor The Winner and four others carry just 115lb.