Big Party will attempt to seal a hat-trick and maintain his status as one of Hong Kong’s brightest prospects when he returns to action at Sha Tin on Sunday, 14 April.
Frankie Lor’s exciting grey has not raced since a “cruise-control” demolition of Class 3 rivals over 1200m on 1 January. But a niggle in the three-year-old’s near-fore led to his withdrawal from an intended run in early February.
“Unfortunately, after the last time he raced he had a little problem with his left front leg but nothing too bad,” Lor said this morning (Friday, 12 April). “I gave him nearly two months to get over it and his trial last time he was a little bit slow. The jockey said he sat down in the gate.”
Big Party’s latest barrier trial (1050m, dirt), 10 days ago, was a mixed bag. A tardy break preceded what might be deemed an awkward mid-section as the gelding travelled with his tail rigid, his head a hint askew and his ears cocked, before closing easily in the straight.
“His trial wasn’t bad – he felt like he still needed it a little bit but he finished off quite well,” jockey Grant van Niekerk said.
“It was his first time in a while doing a trial and he was a little bit uptight but I’m sure in the race he’ll be fine. I’m hoping for a good run – he’ll probably need it a little bit but he’s doing well. I’m sure he’s going to prove himself.”
Big Party jumped 13 points in the ratings after his last run but remains in Class 3 and Lor has no concerns going into Sunday’s Ruby Handicap (1200m). The Exceed And Excel gelding has won two of three career starts, all at the course and distance.
“For me, he’s in good form,” the trainer said. “He’s an exciting horse. In the morning he’s really relaxed but when he goes to the race or in a trial he’s trying to go really hard, he wants to go too hard. That’s why these little problems come up.”
An entire field of untapped potential will hurtle down the Sha Tin 1000m straight when seven unraced colts and geldings contest the season’s first Griffin race, the Amber Plate.
Trainer John Moore has three of those, including the well-regarded two-year-old, Aethero (120lb), a Sebring gelding of the same chestnut hue as a former Moore-trained Hong Kong legend, Able Friend.
Coloration is where the similarities end at this stage but the handler has made no secret of the fact that he considers Aethero to be at least a smart prospect.
Zac Purton takes the ride and is being sensibly cautious in assessing the juvenile’s chances of making a winning debut.
“He’s ok,” he said. “He’s only had one trial and he missed the start by four lengths and closed it off ok, so he’s going to have to do better than that.
“It wasn’t too bad but going into a race off only one trial is not a recipe for success normally. That was only a half-mile trial and normally you like to see horses trial over a thousand (metres) or trial two or three times before they go to the races. John’s taking a risk with him – let’s see if it works.”
Moore has a good record with new Griffins – two and three-year-old prospects unraced before arriving in Hong Kong – and won the corresponding contest last year with the talented Styling City. His other two contenders this time are Rewarding Shine (129lb – Umberto Rispoli) and another two-year-old, Gala Night (120lb), the mount of Joao Moreira.
The field also includes the Me Tsui-trained three-year-old Sparkling Knight (129lb), the mount of Chad Schofield, who quickened late to lead home a 1200m dirt trial recently. Two-year-olds receive a 9lb weight concession from the three-year-olds.
“Aethero can do it but John also told me Gala Night might be the better of the two – we’ll see what happens!” Purton added.
The champion jockey is looking to seal his century having reached 99 for the season at Happy Valley midweek. He is not surprised to have reached the 100 mark so quickly.
“Not necessarily, I was expecting to have a decent season and it’s turned out that way. Things are going well so it’s nice to be near that number and it’ll be nice to get past it,” he said.
Champion’s Way (126lb) is another of the Hong Kong circuit’s young buzz horses. Trainer John Size’s charge will attempt to take his career record to five wins without loss in the Class 2 Topaz Handicap (1400m).
Moreira takes the ride for a third time but Purton was in the plate for the second of the three-year-old’s wins. He re-opposes this time on the Lor-trained Superich (128lb).
“Champion’s Way is obviously a nice horse, he’s progressive and going through the grades in good fashion. You never know how far he’s going to go,” the rider said.
Purton sided with Superich in the Hong Kong Classic Mile back in January but had his hopes dashed in a moderate seventh. The gelding failed to fire when fifth in a Class 2 at a mile last time under Silvestre de Sousa and drops back to 1400m.
“He only let me down once, when we got to the Classic Mile and he pulled up with an issue,” Purton said. “He was lame and not right after that race so he had an excuse there and he didn’t seem like he was stretching out last time. If you can take him on what he’s done previously then he’s obviously good enough.”
Purton though, was not impressed with the gelding’s recent barrier trial.
“I know what he feels like and in the trial he didn’t give me the feel that he had earlier in the season,” he said. “I know how good he is or can be on his day and if he’s got over whatever was worrying him in those last couple of runs or in that barrier trial, well then he’s definitely good enough.
Lor said: “The horse looks better. Last time, de Sousa said he was a bit keen at 1600 metres and he recommended going back to 1400 would be better for him. He trialled ok with Zac Purton on, I think Sunday’s race will be better for him.”
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club