Two weeks, four meetings and 22 rides into his Hong Kong experience, Regan Bayliss is hungry for a first win – a first placing, in fact – but on Sunday (10 March) at Sha Tin the young Australian has a book of rides that suggests he is at least doing things right.
“It’s probably the first weekend where I’ve got some really nice opportunities so I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my best,” the jockey said, having seen fellow new arrival Martin Harley nail a first success at his seventh meeting this past Wednesday.
Bayliss, 21, is locked in for nine of Sunday’s 11 races.
Those opportunities include a ride on the as yet part-fulfilled talent Rise High (120lb) for trainer Caspar Fownes in the Class 1 Lavender Handicap (1600m), and a sit on champion trainer John Size’s young, unbeaten prospect Champion’s Way in the Class 3 Oncidium Handicap (1200m).
“I’m very pleased to get that ride off Mr. Size, he looks a precocious type, he’s won two from two and he’s only going to keep improving,” Bayliss said of Champion’s Way.
Bayliss has never sat on Champion’s Way but he has partnered Rise High. The association started well, with a cruising barrier trial on 1 March – one of those “knife through butter” closing efforts that leaves work watchers cooing.
“I think Rise High conducted himself very well, he gave me a really good feel,” he said. “Caspar said come out on him quiet and let him build through his gears. I was very quiet on him but he just towed me through the line really nicely and gave me a feel as if to say he’s going to be very competitive on Sunday.”
Rise High looked to be on the brink of big things when concluding last season with a trio of wins but this campaign not yet taken off. After running third at his second start in the Class 1 Chevalier Cup Handicap, Fownes sent his charge to Conghua.
“He just lost a bit of bodyweight. That’s why I sent him off to China for a time,” the trainer said.
The five-year-old returned to action with a fair sixth at Happy Valley last month and Fownes is hoping to get back to where he was last July with the French import.
“He put three in a row last season and then we ran out of races, he won at the last meeting,” he said. “He came back in this season and had a little bit of a mixed prep, the programme didn’t really suit him – he had an awkward rating of 107 – so hopefully we’ll make up for that and have the chance to take in some big races before the season’s out.”
Fownes is happy to have Bayliss in the plate this weekend.
“He’s a new boy coming in so we’ll give him a chance,” he said. “Hopefully, he’ll just sit back in this race and work home. He’s a good horse and he’s about where he should be right now in his prep to be competitive.
“I don’t like him ridden up there. I like him ridden quietly so he can just work home.”
Rise High faces strong opposition in the card’s standout contest. Champion jockey Zac Purton rides the Size-trained What Else But You (126lb), a smart last start winner, while G1 winner Seasons Bloom (133lb) and G3 scorers Simply Brilliant (128lb) Dinozzo (128lb) and California Whip (115lb) are also in the line-up.
The talented Good Standing (113lb), Pingwu Spark (128lb) and Morethanlucky (116lb) complete the line-up.
Richard Gibson is unperturbed that the afternoon’s other Class 1, the opening Flamingo Flower Handicap (1200m) has drawn only four runners, one being his G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m) entrant Wishful Thinker (125lb).
“It’s a small field but they never hang around in Hong Kong so I’m not that concerned about the pace,” the trainer said.
“I’ve been really pleased with his prep, he’s in very good physical (shape) so on that side of things we’re very happy. He’s not the easiest of rides but when he gets balanced he’s got a very good acceleration.
Wishful Thinker stormed home late to win at Happy Valley last time and while the handler believes the five-year-old would relish the straight 1200m at Meydan, that excursion is not definite at this stage.
“We’ll have to chat to the owners, so we’ll take one race at a time,” he said before confirming that his G1-placed stayer Gold Mount will make the journey to Dubai for the G2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m).
“We’re going to try our luck in a staying race. We don’t have those opportunities in Hong Kong and I think the horse has always needed a longer distance. Gold Mount’s definitely going to Dubai.”
Another with Dubai on his mind is trainer Tony Millard, whose 93-rated Elusive State bids for six wins on the bounce and a ticket to Meydan for the G2 Godolphin Mile, if not the G1 Dubai World Cup itself. The gelding is set for the Class 2 Lusitano Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m) on the all-weather track.
“If he’s good enough to go (to Dubai) then one would hope that he would win this. If he doesn’t win he’s probably not good enough,” Millard said.
Regular rider Silvestre de Sousa stood down mid card at Happy Valley on Wednesday night due to lower back pain and Millard is hoping the Brazilian will be fit for the weekend.
“I hope Silvestre can ride him. If he can’t well then (Alberto) Sanna will ride him, he’s a good jockey,” he said.
The exciting action starts at 12.30pm (15:30 AEDT) and concludes with the Class 3 Primula Handicap (1600m) at 5.45pm (20:45 AEDT).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club