Jockey Vincent Ho hopes the unbeaten three-year-old Ugly Warrior can continue his winning ways when he tackles the Class 3 Hung To Handicap (1200m) at Sha Tin’s all-weather track night meeting on Wednesday (28 February).
The Me Tsui-trained Ugly Warrior (128lb) has impressed in all three of his wins over 1200m on Sha Tin’s dirt surface. He won his first start in Class 4 by a neck and has caught the eye in two starts since, making all both times to take a second Class 4 by one and a half lengths before scoring by two and three quarter lengths at his first attempt at Class 3 last time out.
“I think he is a pretty good horse, especially on the dirt, so hopefully he will do the same as he did last time,” Ho said at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning (27 February). “Before his first run, I trialled him and I knew straight away that he was a good horse because of his mentality. You can ask him to sprint and he will respond, but if you ask him to come back under you he will relax very well. That’s the mark of a top horse.
“When he walks out to the track, he’s so relaxed, but once he’s in the gates, he’s a totally different horse and he knows his job. Tomorrow night, I have a good gate in five, so hopefully he has some luck and everything should be OK. I don’t think he has to lead, so we will wait and see.”
Ugly Warrior faces off against another promising three-year-old in Pick Number One, who has also won all three of his starts over the course and distance.
“Pick Number One is a good dirt horse as well, but I hope that my horse is better,” a grinning Ho said.
Trainer Danny Shum’s Pick Number One (128lb) has also progressed quickly this season, but the Darci Brahma gelding returns from a minor freshen-up on Wednesday night. For regular rider Zac Purton, though, a recent dirt trial suggested that fitness may prove a query.
“I must say, I thought he needed the trial,” Purton said. “He didn’t travel as strongly as he has in the past and he seemed more laidback. When I asked him to quicken up in the straight, he made hard work of it. He did pull up having a really big blow, so I think that trial will have brought him on, but where he used to feel like he was doing everything comfortably, now he’s starting to feel like it’s more of an effort.
“I think he’s still got progression in him, there’s no doubt he still hasn’t reached his ceiling. He’s struck quite a strong race this time so he’s going to have to be at his best to be competitive. I’m sure he’s going to run well, hopefully he’s good enough.”
Former Snowden pair to make Hong Kong debut
Earlier in the night, trainer John Size sends out high-profile import Gunnison for his first Hong Kong appearance in the Class 2 Hoi Yuen Handicap (1200m).
Gunnison (119lb) was unbeaten from two starts as a juvenile in Australia, winning the G2 Todman Stakes (1200m) at Randwick at his most recent start almost a year ago, but Size has been patient since his arrival in May.
“His preparation has been OK, there have not been many complications with the horse – he has good speed and he does everything correctly,” Size said. “He knows his job. He’s a little bit young though and he’s not as strong as some of his competitors, but he’s been here for a while and I’ve given him plenty of time so he may as well go to the races and we can find out where he is.
“It’s very tough for a three-year-old to start in Class 2, but it’s been well-explained to the connections. That’s why I’ve taken my time with him. (Young horses) do find it quite difficult but that’s where we are and we have to start somewhere.”
Size said that the decision to debut Gunnison on dirt came after watching his Todman Stakes victory, which came over a heavy Randwick track, and also from monitoring the Not A Single Doubt gelding since his arrival.
“I think he’s a horse that would appreciate getting his foot in the ground a little bit,” the trainer said. “I think the harder tracks are not something that he’d relish just yet, although next season as a four-year-old he might handle them a little bit better, but from what we saw of him on a wet track in Australia, I think the dirt might help him out a little bit.”
Gunnison is one of two Hong Kong debutants in the night’s feature; the other, the Richard Gibson-trained Great Honour (115lb), was a G3 winner over 1600m at Randwick under the name Acatour. Both Gunnison and Great Honour were trained by Peter and Paul Snowden down under, racing in the green and gold colours of James Harron.
The Hoi Yuen Handicap is the seventh of eight races and is scheduled to jump at 10.20pm, with the opener, the Class 5 Yue Man Handicap (1200m), set for 7.15pm.