Blizzard wins the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup at Sha Tin last season.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By David Morgan
Blizzard heads the weights for Sunday’s (3 September) feature race at Sha Tin’s season opener, the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (1200m), and trainer Ricky Yiu is looking for a green light performance before committing his talented charge to Japan’s Group 1 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) in five weeks’ time.
“We’ll plan more after Sunday but the plan, as it stands, and if he runs well, is to look towards the Sprinters Stakes,” said Yiu, who saddled Ultra Fantasy to a famous Sprinters Stakes win in 2010.
Before booking a trip to Nakayama for that 1 October showcase, the six-year-old is set to shoulder 133lb in a select edition of Hong Kong’s first trophy race of the 2017/18 season, which has drawn seven smart entrants. That means the chestnut will have to concede 15lb and more to his rivals, with the John Moore-trained Magic Legend, second top-rated, slated to carry 118lb.
“I think the weight concession on Sunday is the big concern. Those horses down at the bottom of the handicap, they’re getting a lot of weight from him,” the trainer continued.
Those feather-weighted rivals among the entries include the exciting Seasons Bloom (117lb), runner-up to Rapper Dragon in the 2017 Hong Kong Classic Mile for trainer Danny Shum, as well as Shamal, chasing six wins on end for trainer Me Tsui. But a smart trial at Sha Tin’s pre-season carnival last Saturday (26 August) showed Yiu, and Sunday’s rider Zac Purton, that Blizzard is in fine fettle for his season’s debut.
The former champion jockey enjoyed a smooth run down the 1000m straight at the weekend as Blizzard cruised past the winning post, ears flicked skyward, holding an easy three quarters of a length advantage over his nearest pursuer.
“I thought his trial was good,” Purton said. “Most importantly, he was moving well, he was enjoying himself out there, he had his ears pricked and he was out in front floating along. Mentally and physically, he feels good at the moment.
“It’s never going to be easy when you’ve got to carry 133 pounds against some improving, nice horses but it looks as if there’s going to be a little bit of speed in the race, which should suit him. I’m sure he’s going to run well, we’ll just see how he goes carrying the weight against the rest.”
Blizzard’s two wins last term were achieved at 1400m — the pick being his G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap score — with a two-year stretch back to his last 1200m triumph. But a close third in this contest 12 months ago was one of a handful of smart efforts at the course and distance last term that included dead-heating for third behind Mr Stunning and Peniaphobia in April’s G2 Sprint Cup.
“I think he’ll run well fresh, and, being fresh, I think the 1200 metres won’t be a problem,” Yiu said.
As for the Japan excursion, Yiu and Purton were singing from similar hymn sheets when speaking during Tuesday’s (29 August) barrier trial session at Sha Tin.
“I haven’t had a commitment from any jockey to ride him in Japan. I told Zac he’s in for Japan but he hasn’t given me a definite answer yet,” Yiu said, adding with a chuckle, “I might have to apply for a licence to ride him myself!”
With Hong Kong staging two important Group 3 contests on the same day as the Sprinters Stakes (National Day Cup Handicap and Celebration Cup Handicap), Purton is keen to assess the horse that ran third in both the Hong Kong Classic Mile and Hong Kong Classic Cup in 2016 after Sunday’s opening effort.
“Let’s see how he goes in this race,” the former champion jockey said. “He’s shown us previously he’s a very capable horse, and, on his day, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he was able to snag a top race like the Sprinters Stakes. We’ll just assess him after the run. Carrying 133 pounds against this lot is a good test for Japan; it’s never easy carrying top weight so we’ll just see.”
The HKSAR Chief Executives Cup entries also feature the smart galloper Fabulous One (117lb) from the Chris So stable, Tony Millard’s G1-placed Strathmore (113lb), and the Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend (103lb), G2-placed at the distance in Australia and a winner at Happy Valley on his second, and latest, Hong Kong start back in July.
Hong Kong’s 2017/18 season opener features 10 races and the action will commence at 1pm.