The first domestic Group One races of the season take place at Sha Tin on Sunday, with the weight for age Stewards’ Cup over 1,600m and the first of the premium four-year-old events, the Classic Mile.
The Stewards’ Cup is the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown, a difficult achievement across this mile event, the Gold Cup over 2,000m next month and the Champions & Chater Cup at 2,400m in May.
Only one horse has ever won the Triple Crown, and that almost 20 years ago. Ambitious Dragon went close last season, winning the first two legs then finishing runner-up in the third phase, and his owner has publicly ruled out overseas ventures in favour of targeting the Triple Crown this season.
He looks the one to beat in the first leg, but it is no soft race with arch rival Glorious Days, Hong Kong Cup winner California Memory, Champions Mile winner Xtension and a host of quality runners engaged, seven of them from the John Moore stable.
In the Classic Mile, Douglas Whyte has jumped off the very talented John Size-trained Happy Era to pilot Richard Gibson-trained Gold-Fun, on which he has won his past two rides at the same distance.
That ensures Gold-Fun of favouritism though the race sees a number of expensive purchases likely to improve on Hong Kong debut runs when in need of the race.
Form jockey Zac Purton was without a ride in the Classic Mile when Garlic Boy originally missed out on a start and was made first emergency due to his low handicap rating, but the son of Savabeel got a late call-up to the field on Friday when Exquisite Champion was scratched.
Garlic Boy has been impressive winning his only three runs this season and now gives Purton a chance to win both of the big ones on Sunday as he will again partner his Hong Kong Mile winner, Ambitious Dragon, in the main event.
By Nathan Mody