Horse Racing
Excellent Peers chases crucial DBS x Manulife Million Challenge points

By Declan Schuster
31/01/2023 15:15

Excellent Peers wins at Happy Valley this season.
Excellent Peers wins at Happy Valley this season.

Excellent Peers will be chanced with snaring first position in this season’s DBS x Manulife Million Challenge when he contests the first section of Wednesday’s (1 February) Class 3 Tin Lok Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley.

The DBS x Manulife Million Challenge will conclude next Wednesday night (8 February) after kicking off on 14 September last year, while victory tomorrow night would see the bay earn 15 points and secure outright top spot ahead of Nearly Fine (53 points), Street Scream (45), Yo Beauty (42), California Deeply (36) and Comet Splendido (36).

The competition is for horses racing in Class 3 and above, with points awarded for first, second, third and fourth place finishes.

Excellent Peers will step away from gate 11 with 135lb assigned as the highest-rated horse in the race on a current mark of 80 under Zac Purton for Frankie Lor.

“He is (consistent), unfortunately he has a heavy weight and a wide gate, so it makes things a little bit difficult there but he’s a consistent horse and I’m sure he’ll still run well,” Purton said. “His trial was good, he wasn’t out there to do anything flash but to tick over and he did that.”

Excellent Peers is a two-time winner this season.

Excellent Peers faces stiff opposition including Gold Gold Baby, who seeks a fifth city course win this term for Golden Sixty’s front men: Francis Lui and Vincent Ho.

Gold Gold Baby (125lb) draws gate three and meets Excellent Peers (135lb) more favourably at the weights. This season, he has drastically turned his form around, which Lui attributes to corrective throat surgery. 

Since 2000, several horses have won five races through a single-season at Happy Valley but only Noble Boy (2001/02) has won six, a record that Gold Gold Baby could tear down or equal with much of this season still left to play out.

The DBS x Manulife Million Challenge returns HK$650,000 to the connections of the first-placed horse when it concludes next week.

Yo Beauty also features this week when he lines up under Antoine Hamelin for Tony Cruz in the second section of the Class 3 Tin Lok Handicap (1200m). The Irish-bred speedster also has the chance to secure top spot in the lucrative competition.  

Adios takes his place in the same contest, while Comet Splendido chases points in the Class 3 Volunteers’ Challenge Cup Handicap (1800m) under Alexis Badel for Danny Shum.

“I think the horse is in good form. I believe he’s a very good ride, I’m very happy – I don’t have the ideal gate but the horse seems to be in very good form,” Badel said.

Rocket Spade rolls into second place.

Hugh Bowman will look to guide Rocket Spade to a first Hong Kong win in the same race, lining up in barrier eight for trainer Caspar Fownes after finishing second last start.

“He was the victim of a pretty sedate pace in that race at Happy Valley, the horse outside the leader just got first run and we couldn’t run him down.

“That was through no fault of my horse, I had to settle him from a wide draw and that’ll probably be the case again – he’s a horse who does like to relax and sit midfield or perhaps worse, so he will rely on a genuine speed but he was really superb last start – he hit the line really well and there is no reason why he can’t improve on what he did last start,” Bowman said.

King Eccellente will chase a hat-trick of wins when he contests the first section of the Class 4 Stubbs Handicap (1200m) under Karis Teetan for Douglas Whyte.

“I would say he’s held his form, it’s difficult to say whether he has improved. He would have to lift his game this time but the horse is healthy and he’s working well,” Whyte said.

Following his third aboard California Spangle in Sunday’s G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), Zac Purton commended his mount’s performance behind Golden Sixty and Romantic Warrior.

“It was a very brave effort, he had a nice time in front and he was just beaten by a champion, so there was no disgrace with the effort he put in,” Purton said.

Wednesday’s (1 February) nine-race fixture at Happy Valley kicks off at 6.45pm with the Class 5 Bowen Handicap (1200m).