By Declan Schuster, Hong Kong Jockey Club
Hong Kong racing returns on Sunday, 6 September at Sha Tin with the traditional season-opening feature race, the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m) kicking off the 88-meeting programme.
The Class 1 contest sees the return of Regency Legend, who is out to defend his title and use it as a pathway to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races in December, while at the same time safeguarding Danny Shum’s solid record in the race.
“I plan to run Regency Legend in the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) in December because currently the sprint ranks in Hong Kong are not overly strong, so hopefully he gets his chance,” the handler said.
Shum has won three out of the last four editions with Regency Legend’s win last year following the stable’s Lucky Year (2016) and Seasons Bloom (2017). The handler was satisfied with his sprinter’s tune-up this morning, Friday, 28 August, as he stepped out for a 1000m grass trial down the straight at Sha Tin.
“He trialled ok, I think he will improve from that trial but because he has been off for so long, he can’t be 100 percent fit, but he’s ok,” Shum said.
The Pins gelding won the first four races of his career before his 2019/20 campaign was disrupted by soundness issues. Two cases of blood in his trachea were followed by a right-front fetlock injury, though this morning’s trial saw the 109-rater appear to move freely within himself.
“We did more work with him over the off-season, but we didn’t really push him because the season is going to be very long, so we will make sure that he gradually improves,” Shum said.
Frenchman Antoine Hamelin was in the plate this morning and will also take the riding duties on race day.
“I thought his trial was good for him – he needed it, he probably should be better and more ready the next time he steps out, but I was happy with him this morning,” Hamelin said.
The 29-year-old secured 17 wins across his first stint in Hong Kong and returns on a full-season licence for 2020/21. He remained cautious about his feature race chances given the line-up that he and the five-year-old New Zealand-bred galloper could face in Sunday week’s test.
“The race on opening day won’t be an easy task for him: the problem is not the race but the horses he is likely to face will be pretty good,” he said.
“It’s difficult at the start of the season to know the form of all the horses, but for me he felt as if he is in good form.”
Shum has a two-pronged attack on Sunday week’s feature, with Perfect Match also set to represent the handler. A good effort could see him on the way to the December G1 races too.
The five-year-old crossed the line third under French ace Alexis Badel in the same trial as Regency Legend.
“Perfect Match’s rating is 103, so it’s difficult to find a race for him but I suspect the 1200-metre field will be weaker than the mile,” Shum said.
The Not A Single Doubt galloper shot up 21 rating points last season and closed out his campaign with a three-quarter length defeat in the G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m).
“Both horses have a chance: Perfect Match, I think he also has a chance, it just depends on if they get a reasonable draw,” Shum said.
The handler secured 45 wins last season to finish seventh in the trainers’ premiership.
“I always keep trying to do better than last season, this is my aim, I always try my best and hopefully the horses are sound, my staff are happy and hopefully everything will go good,” Shum said.
Rattan returns as Schofield eyes new best
Chad Schofield’s campaign will commence with a renewed association with Rattan in the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m), and the talented rider is eyeing another personal best, following his season-high 43 wins last term.
“I just have to keep raising the bar, I need to work on getting more support and I’m confident that if the support comes I know that I can keep lifting,” Schofield said.
Rattan trialled under Schofield in the same 1000m batch as the Shum gallopers, rolling down the straight into fourth alongside Perfect Match.
“I thought his trial this morning was encouraging and he’s going to have the blinkers on next week, so let’s hope he can bring back some of his old form,” Schofield said.
The seven-year-old’s last win came with Schofield in the plate, the pair combining for a G2 success in the 2019 Sprint Cup (1200m). However, since then he has been winless, with his best finish a second-place to Beat The Clock in the 2019 G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m).
“He’s going well, he’s an older horse now, so he’s a lot quieter but he feels really good and well within himself,” Schofield said.
“He’s a lot more mentally laid back, he used to really pump himself up before now he’s pretty casual and hopefully that’s a good thing heading into longer distances later in the season,” he said.