Dr Listening winning at Happy Valley last season
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By Andrew Hawkins
Zac Purton believes Dr Listening has held his form well since closing last season with a victory, but admits to being slightly perplexed by the quirky gelding ahead of his first-up run on Wednesday night (13 September).
“Even from his first gallop this season, he felt like he’d held his form pretty well for a horse coming off a break so I don’t think it’s going to take too much for him to come back up,” Purton said at Sha Tin trackwork on Tuesday morning (12 September).
David Hall-trained Dr Listening (119lb), who won over 1800m on 12 July, comes back in distance for Wednesday night’s Class 2 Washington D.C. Handicap over 1650m. He trialled last Friday on the Sha Tin all-weather track, finishing almost 12 lengths behind Sunny Win, but Purton said the Star Witness gelding was unsuited by the wet dirt surface.
“His trial was a pass, the track that morning was very wet and he didn’t really like the kickback so he didn’t go in it,” Purton said. “He didn’t have a hard trial as a result, but he didn’t lose a lot of his fitness from the back end of last season.
“He’s a very tricky horse, he’s got a few little kinks. Maybe 1800m might be the trip for him, but it’s still a mystery, he’s only been tested up in trip a couple of times. Who knows? I don’t even think he knows.”
Purton’s biggest concern is barrier 11, with only a short run to the first turn from the 1650m start.
“It’s not a good gate,” the Australian rider added. “Last time he drew a good gate, everything went to plan, the race fell really nicely for him and he was able to get the job done but this time he’s going to have to do it the hard way.”
Dr Listening faces 11 rivals in what stands as a leg of the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge. Two past winners of the annual Happy Valley series line up for their seasonal debuts on Wednesday night: Danny Shum-trained Speedy Longwah, who scored in 2015/16, and last season’s hero Packing Dragon for Ricky Yiu.
Speedy Longwah (124lb), a five-time winner over the Happy Valley 1650m, gets Nash Rawiller aboard for just the second time.
“His trackwork has been good, it feels like a break has really rejuvenated him,” said Rawiller, who guided the seven-year-old in a dirt gallop last Wednesday (6 September). “Danny has put a fair bit of ground work into him, he feels fit and on the track he seems to be happy so all the right signs are there.”
Packing Dragon (133lb), the Mastercraftsman half-brother to two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon, made his mark last season with four Happy Valley victories, including one over the extended mile. Chad Schofield was in the plate for two of those wins, but seven-pound apprentice Matthew Poon jumps aboard on Wednesday night.
“I think they decided to claim with Packing Dragon because he’s at the top of the weights,” Schofield said. “He’s a very good Happy Valley horse, he will be rolling along out in front and he will be hard to catch.”
Schofield instead rides Sichuan Dar (118lb), who has won two of his three course and distance runs but steps out for Tony Millard at the city circuit for the first time.
“I think he is looking for the mile now,” the 23-year-old said. “He is not showing a great deal of urgency out of the gates anymore and he’s looking like he wants a bit further now he’s a bit older. We’ve drawn a nice gate, the speed should be on, we’ll hopefully be somewhere midfield and hitting the line strongly.
“He’s not a horse that sets the track on fire in his work, but he’s fit and well. He trialled well on the dirt, he’s not a big fan of that surface but he closed off nicely.”
The Washington D.C. Handicap is scheduled as the last of eight races and is set to jump at 3.50pm Irish time on Wednesday, while the opener, the second section of the Class 4 Chicago Handicap (1200m), will begin at 12.15pm.
Wednesday night’s trophy race is the Class 3 Fakei Cup Handicap (1000m), one of Hong Kong’s oldest races with a history dating back to 1856. It is named for the Cantonese term for the American “Stars and Stripes” flag and, having been discontinued in 1875, it was revived in 1976 to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States.
That contest, which features the likes of John Size’s Diego Kosta (133lb), Tony Cruz-trained Circuit King (123lb) and course and distance specialist Mr Right (122lb) for Peter Ho, is the fourth race on the card and will jump at 1:45pm.