Umberto Rispoli heads into Wednesday’s eight-race card at Happy Valley primed for the mount aboard Right Choice (118lb) in the Class 2 Big Wave Bay Handicap (1650m).
Happy Valley’s first meeting of the season marks the start of the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge, which runs until 26 February. The competition is for horses racing in Class 3 and above, with points awarded for first, second, third and fourth place finishes.
A first-up win for Right Choice would bag 15 points in the HK$1 million contest.
“He needed a break because he had a tough season, jumping from Class 4 to the top of Class 2 - he definitely needed a rest,” Rispoli said of the Frankie Lor-trainer gelding, who won five from eight in his debut campaign.
Right Choice was one of Hong Kong’s most improved gallopers last season - rising from a rating of 52 in Class 4 to a Class 2 figure of 89.
“This is his first time at the Valley, he just kept improving last year and at the end of the season it was a little bit tough because he reached a high rating in Class 2 but he was still competitive,” the Italian said.
The Mastercraftsman gelding mopped up four wins in succession as he bagged five from his first six starts and is fresh after well-deserved a four-month rest.
“His trial was ok, the track was very sloppy and he didn’t really like it. He’s a horse who prefers the grass that’s for sure.”
The gelding, a dirt track winner on debut but raced exclusively on turf since, is untested beyond 1600m. Rispoli suspects that stepping out over further would be beneficial.
“He’s been giving me the impression that he can be as well over 1800 metres to 2000 metres this season - he can go further, but the 1650 first-up is no problem,” he said.
Up against Right Choice are Doctor Geoff (133lb), Enrichment (118lb) and Harmony Hero (113lb), as well as the Lor-trained Mission Tycoon (131lb) who steps out for the first time this season following a Hong Kong Classic Series campaign that yielded a big win in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
“I’m very happy with his barrier, he feels like he’ll do a furlong or so further, he feels really well. Everything about him is in a good place,” said Wednesday night’s pilot Aldo Domeyer.
Mission Tycoon is aiming to build on his Four-Year-Old Classic Series campaign and Domeyer is upbeat about the gelding’s continued progression.
“He’s a solid boy, he’s sound, he’s got gate speed and he does everything that a Hong Kong horse should do - he’s a competitive athlete,” he said.
“I was pleased with his trial, he did everything I needed him to do. He’s obviously in good hands with Frankie and there are a lot of positives to look at.”
Right Choice, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Leung’s fast-start to continue
Derek Leung has hit the ground running this season with an opening day success aboard Gold Chest for Richard Gibson and the dual Tony Cruz Award winner is looking to keep on rolling when he partners Enjoy Life (127lb) in the Class 4 Shek O Handicap (1650m).
A three-time victor from 33 outings all told, the Falkirk gelding returns first-up following an eye-catching dash over 1200m in a trial on the Conghua turf.
“I felt good on him at Conghua, he trialled very good - we had the outside draw so I went back and he finished very well - you can see his form is coming back quite quickly,” Leung said.
The G1-winning rider was in the plate for Enjoy Life’s one success last season and he’s looking forward to re-connecting with Me Tsui’s charge.
“He’s a very easy ride; you just need clear room as he doesn't like to go between other horses,” he said.
“Unluckily, we have the outside draw. We would love to see him midfield or a bit further back because with the outside draw we aren’t left with many options - it depends on the race,” he said.
Among his book of six rides, Leung will also ride Litteratuer in Wednesday’s Class 2 Big Wave Bay Handicap (1650m), a five-time course and distance victor.
“Last time it rained and the track was heavy but he’s pulled up fine and he always runs very well at Happy Valley,” the rider said.
Leung will also take the mount aboard the Gibson-trained All You Know (118lb) in the Deep Water Bay Handicap in which he will face Chefano (131lb). The John Moore-trained galloper returns as a gelding for the new season.
“It’s made a great difference, especially character wise. He is much more tractable in his work and Zac (Purton) got off and said he was a different horse,” Moore said.
In-form Moreira ready for Valley return
Joao Moreira bagged three winners on Sunday at Sha Tin and with a full book of rides this Wednesday, the Brazilian ace isn’t ready to rest on his laurels.
“I’m really happy, the winners have started to pop up and hopefully we can continue on,” Moreira said.
The three-time champion jockey closes his evening with the ride on the Tony Cruz-trained Smart Leader (124lb) in the Class 3 Chung Hom Kok Handicap (1200m).
“He felt great, he felt ready to go to the races and I’m looking forward to riding him,” Moreira said.
Smart Leader hit his straps late last season, springing into the fold after appearing 15 times for five minor placings and no wins.
“Having a break as a horse - he will have appreciated that,” the rider said.
Moreira isn’t predicting them to dawdle in Wednesday’s finale and the 36-year-old remains upbeat about Smart Leader’s chances of breaking through.
“It’s a race that is going be such a fast-run race, usually the last race at Happy Valley is quite fast and if you look at this race in particular there are plenty of fast horses,” he added.
Wednesday’s eight-race card at Happy Valley commences at 7.15pm with the Class 4 Shek O Handicap (1650m).