Hong Kong preview: Joyful Hunter preps for Four-Year-Old Series

December 22nd, 2023

Edited press release from Hong Kong Jockey Club

Keen to convert quality opportunities into more wins after a frustrating recent run, Vincent Ho hopes Joyful Hunter and The Heir can add further luster to an unforgettable December at Sha Tin on Saturday (beginning late Friday night stateside).

With the memories of Golden Sixty’s colossal Hong Kong Mile (G1) triumph on Dec. 10 still vivid, Ho is eager to capitalize Saturday after slotting three wins and 11 minor placings from 47 rides this month.

A four-time winner of the Tony Cruz Award as Hong Kong’ top homegrown rider and runner-up in last season’s jockey’s championship with a career-high 96 victories, Ho made a delayed start to this season after suffering injuries in a Japanese race fall.

With 16 wins and 32 minor placings from 120 rides so far this term, Ho has eight mounts this weekend, including Joyful Hunter in the Class 3 Pine Handicap (1200 meters) for Francis Lui.

Unbeaten in two runs last season, Joyful Hunter has had three runs this term for two thirds and an 11th, but Ho is confident the gelding is primed to return to form despite drawing the outside gate in the 11-horse field.

“He’s a quality horse and he’s ready to go. Unfortunately, it’s a tricky draw but we’ll see,” Ho said.

“He’s a nice horse and if everything goes well, hopefully he can still be in the Four-Year-Old Series. He’ll definitely need longer but he’s had some time off, so he’s starting off at 1200 (meters).”

Ho also takes the reins on Caspar Fownes-trained The Heir in the Class 3 Poinsettia Handicap (1400 meters).

“Lovely horse – actually, he’s a very nice horse. We’re excited that he’s stepping up now and he should perform very well. He’s a nice horse to ride, quite easy,” Ho said.

Keith Yeung is optimistic Woodfire Bro’s racing pattern will be an advantage when Michael Chang’s charge contests the Class 2 Yan Chai Trophy Handicap (2000 meters).

To carry only 115 pounds against nine rivals headed by Tourbillon Diamond (135 pounds), Woodfire Bro rises to Class 2 for the first time after a last-start second to Chancheng Glory over 1600 meters on Nov. 26.

“I’m not so worried about the draw (barrier 8) because usually he just rolls forward, and in a 2000-meter race, there won’t be too much speed, so (hopefully) I can get to the front in a comfortable way,” Yeung said.

“He’s an honest horse and also he’s very settled in the race during the run. He lets you wait for you to ask him and then he switches on.”

Pierre Ng will saddle nine runners Saturday as he bids to produce at least one winner for the 15th consecutive meeting. Leading the Hong Kong trainers’ championship by 15 with 37 wins, Ng has snared 25 winners across 14 meetings stretching back to Nov. 5.

The second-season handler will attempt to continue his remarkable sequence with two last-start winners - Starship Eighty and I Give, who is bidding for a sixth straight win.

Saturday’s 10-race card at Sha Tin starts with the Class 4 Amaryllis Handicap (2000 meters) at midnight ET.