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Graham Cunningham's Hong Kong briefing: all you need to know for the new season

Sha Tin: new season opens on Sunday
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Legends back in action as season begins

Hong Kong remains on the front pages after a turbulent summer but Asia’s World City reclaims the sports pages on Sunday when a new racing season gets under way at Sha Tin.

A total of 88 meetings between September and next July carry around £130m in prize-money and the local legends all have something to prove in one way or another.

Beauty Generation is the undisputed star of HK racing and will attempt to back up a flawless 2018-19 campaign when he reappears in the Celebration Cup on October 1.

Zac Purton: number one and dreaming of a third consecutive jockeys? title
The master miler’s regular rider Zac Purton has already nominated his great rival Joao Moreira as a serious threat to his dream of a third consecutive jockeys’ championship, while champion trainer John Size was pushed all the way by John Moore last season but remains strong favourite to top the table for a 12th time.

Globetrotting Whyte up for the fight as new career beckons

This is Moore’s swansong season in Hong Kong and it will feature an intriguing new twist as one of his former allies goes up against him.

Douglas Whyte, who rode a string of big winners for Moore on his way to 13 consecutive titles, has been on a world tour to shadow Mike de Kock, Sir Michael Stoute, William Haggas, Sir Mark Prescott, Charlie Appleby, David Hayes and Chris Waller as he prepares for his new career as a trainer.

The Durban Demon has seven runners on Sunday’s ten-race card, which is live on Sky Sports Racing from 6am, and is hoping his riding instincts give him an added edge in his new career.

"My hands have never lied to me; they've been my go-to point for 23 years," he said. "I hadn't ridden work at Newmarket. That was one of the boxes I wanted to tick and I was fortunate enough to ride work on some of the better quality horses for Sir Michael and William Haggas.

"It's been a big learning curve," he added. "I don't think there was one trainer who didn't open up and answer any question I had and I'm very grateful for what they were able to share with me."

Lor pair poised to shine

It's no secret there was little love lost between Whyte and Purton as they battled on the track, but the ice has thawed of late and the pair link up when Easy Go Easy Win contests the Tai Mo Shan Handicap at 9.35.

The five-year-old is on a good mark after becoming frustrating for Moore, while former Jim Bolger galloper Fast Most Furious swooped late on the final day of last season, but may not get the fast pace that suits as he tries to follow up on day one of a new one.

By contrast, King Opie and Morethanlucky are more than capable of showing their best form from close to the pace in tactical contests.

Morethanlucky: poor draw in stall 11 but has capable 10lb claimer Alfred Chan to offset that
King Opie thrived for the excellent Frankie Lor last season, winning four as he improved his rating from 54 to 86, and he should get every chance to show his best again from an inside draw under South African rider Grant Van Niekerk.

Fellow Lor galloper Morethanlucky isn't so well drawn in stall 11, but he's nicely treated with the speed to secure a good position, and the fact that Lor has opted to hand the ride to his capable 10lb claimer Alfred Chan for the first time looks another point in his favour.

Halford import bids to rise and shine

There is no hard border for Irish imports to HK and Moreira links up with an interesting recruit when Playa Del Puente opposes King Opie and Morethanlucky on his debut for Danny Shum.

This three-year-old was bought with Hong Kong in mind after a promising debut at the Curragh fully 12 months ago and progressed rapidly thereafter, winning three times at Dundalk and earning a racing Post rating of 104 for his gutsy Listed success in March.

Playa Del Puente: the triple Dundalk winner is seen as a promising recruit to Hong Kong
Playa Del Puente's former trainer Michael Halford described him as “a really smart horse who is on the improve the whole time” and the Elzaam gelding looked in great heart when bustling up the very speedy Winner Supreme in his first Hong Kong trial over 1,000m last week.

History shows that winning in Class 2 company tends to be tough for newcomers but Playa Del Puente has clear potential and Halford has a strong record with his Hong Kong transfers headed by Exultant, who has won seven races and almost £4.5m on his way to becoming Hong Kong's champion middle distance stayer.

Big two square off again in Sunday showdown

Joao Moreira will be hungry in more ways than one as a new season dawns, not least because he has been on light rations in an attempt to get down to 8st 1lb to partner Moore's Styling City in Sunday’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (7.00).

Joao Moreira: the only rider engaged in all ten races on Sunday

The Brazilian played second fiddle to Purton last season, partly because he only returned from a truncated spell in Japan in December but also because his role as stable jockey to Size restricted his opportunities for outside yards.

However, Moreira is free to roam again in his new freelance role and the fact that his lowest weight is around 5lb lower than Purton’s increases his options appreciably in a system where more than nine out of ten races are handicaps.

Moreira is the only rider engaged in all ten races on Sunday and has Purton as his main rival when Styling City comes up against unbeaten Regency Legend in the day’s feature.

Regency Legend won three from three during a seven-week spell in December and January, recording impressive closing splits in the process, and will corner a large slice of the market on his first venture into Class 1 despite a lengthy lay-off.

However, Styling City also showed smart form last season and finished ahead of Regency Legend in a recent morning trial. Add the fact that Moreira is aboard for the first time in over a year to the prospect of a smooth stalking trip behind speedy California Fortune, and he clearly has plenty in his favour.


Read The Lowdown from 8.30am daily on racingpost.com and the Racing Post app for all the day's going updates, news and tips


 

My hands have never lied to me; they've been my go-to point for 23 years
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