Horse Racing
Conte tops the menu in G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup

By Graham Cunningham
31/12/2018 14:11

Conte is a big attraction on Sha Tin's Lucky Start card.
Conte is a big attraction on Sha Tin's Lucky Start card.

The most reliable recipe for turning a rookie racehorse into an elite Hong Kong winner is simple:

Take one healthy measure of John Size; add promising recruits sourced in Australia or New Zealand; and finally, season with skill and simmer on low heat for several months before producing with perfect timing at the top table.

Size has turned all of Hong Kong’s five best sprinters from unknowns into Pattern winners – namely Mr Stunning, Ivictory, D B Pin, Hot King Prawn and Beat The Clock – and aims to repeat the feat on Sha Tin’s Lucky Start card on Tuesday (1 January) when Conte (117lb) makes his Group 3 debut in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).

Beat The Clock came up just short when sent off at 1.8 on his Group-race bow in last year’s renewal but Size seems confident that Conte can excel again from stall 11 in a HK$3.25 million race featuring two stablemates and four rivals from the Tony Cruz barn.

“Conte seems to have come up well,” Size said. “It was a good strong win the other day and I expect him to be hard to beat again.”

Conte dominates in Class 2 company.

The win in question was a dominant Class 2 success in a race run at a strong pace and Joao Moreira, who has won six from seven aboard Conte, feels the handsome Starcraft gelding is “an up and coming horse who still has plenty of upside.”

He added: “One thing to highlight is that Conte has great acceleration and then keeps grinding. He hadn’t run for a long time before his first run this season, but his latest win was very strong and I think he can be better again as he hasn’t been overused.”

Nothing bids to show more

Moreira is more than happy to be aboard Conte again but adds that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Nothingilkemore (121lb) provides stern opposition with bang-in-form Silvestre de Sousa up for the first time.

Five consecutive defeats have taken the shine off a glowing reputation but Nothingilikemore showed signs of a revival when sixth from a wide trip in Beauty Generation’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and Size identifies the return to handicap company as a plus.

“Nothingilikemore ran very nicely last time,” he added. “He didn’t have much luck in a much stronger race and now he’s coming back to a handicap. He’s been rated 110 for a long time, so I think he can cope with it, and I’m sure he’ll run well.”

Rattan freshened for Round Two

Only three horses have finished ahead of Conte during his eight-race career and one of them is back to try and repeat the dose.

Step forward Richard Gibson’s Rattan (119lb), who headed Conte close home to land the Class 1 Panasonic Cup (1400m) by a neck in November prior to finishing a solid fourth in the Chevalier Cup (1600m) two weeks later.

Rattan wears down Conte in the Panasonic Cup.
Rattan wears down Conte in the Panasonic Cup.

Gibson was satisfied with Rattan’s latest effort but feels a five-week break will be beneficial as he limbers up for a rematch with Conte.

“Rattan runs very well over 1400m and always goes strongly when fresh,” he said. “I think he was penalised by backing up quickly last time but he’s been fantastically consistent and I’m sure he won’t let us down again.”

The Cruz quartet is headed by Beauty Only and Winner’s Way (both 133lb), who finished fourth and seventh in this race 12 months ago, along with Romantic Touch (120lb) and California Whip (119lb).

Derek Leung feels Pingwu Spark (129lb) will be back on his best behaviour after declining to enter the stalls for the Hong Kong Sprint, while the field is completed by Born In China (123lb), What Else But You (117lb), Morethanlucky and Taking Aim (both 113lb).

Shum’s Legends, Size’s Star

Regency Legend achieved an impressive debut success under Neil Callan on LONGINES Hong Kong International Races day – clocking near-identical splits to LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint winner Mr Stunning from start to finish – and trainer Danny Shum hopes he can defy a hefty rating rise in the Class 2 Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1200m).

“Zac Purton will ride Regency Legend (123lb) as Neil is suspended,” he said. “He’s been put up 12 points for his first win, which is a little bit tough for a three-year-old, but he won in a very good time and I hope he can go close again.”

Regency Legend impresses on his Sha Tin debut.
Regency Legend impresses on his Sha Tin debut.

Young Legend (117lb) hasn’t won in seven starts for Shum but is fresh from a promising fourth over course and distance and will have plenty of support in the Class 3 Lantau Peak Handicap (1200m) on a day when his owners (The Racing Club) also have Young Glory and Young Empire in action.

“Young Legend went back up to 1200m last time and came home strongly after some trouble,” he added. “The C track should suit him and the field doesn’t look too strong so he should run a very good race.”

Country Star (117lb) joins Regency Legend in moving up to Class 2 for the Tai Mo Shan Handicap and Size feels the time is right to try Sha Tin after three Happy Valley wins.

“He’s an honest little horse and there’s no reason why he won’t handle Sha Tin,” he said. “There’s plenty of competition – he’s in Class 2 and it’s hard work for a three-year-old – but he probably deserves a shot.”

Size steps lightly-raced former Irish galloper Waikuku (129lb) up to 1400m for the concluding Class 3 Sunset Peak Handicap in a bid to make amends for a narrow debut defeat on 23 December behind battle-hardened Victory Machine.

“Track conditions were problematic that day as it was a little bit rough,” he said. “Waikuku was a little bit unlucky but 1400m could be more suitable and now he’s had that experience he might go a little bit better.”

An 11-race card on Tuesday gets under way at 12.30pm with the Class 4 Yi Tung Shan Handicap.