Luke Middlebrook: Hong Kong racing returns to Happy Valley for an eight-race programme on Wednesday, with the Class 3 1650m Hong Kong Country Club Challenge Cup Handicap the feature race on the night.
That race sees the return of progressive four-year-old FA FA , and he will look to continue his winning ways after he was last seen putting paid to his rivals smartly at the end of last season.
Last season as a three-year-old, FA FA took a few starts to come to hand for the Frankie Lor stable, but once the tongue tie was applied at his fourth time of asking, while switching from Sha Tin to this track and distance, he put it all together to get on the board.
Although he was unable to repeat the dose at his next outing, mainly due to an ill-judged ride in which FA FA was set a mammoth task out the back in a slow-run race, he did close off hard and fast into second place.
Luck was taken out the equation next time as he mapped much closer to the speed from barrier No 2, letting down his with trademark turn-of-foot to put the race to bed from the 200m and score easily by 1.75 lengths.
The up-and-comer gives the indication he can head higher in the handicap this term, and he finds an ideal race for his return in which he looks favoured to make it back-to-back scores.
Elsewhere, and five-year-old FIRE BALL will be favoured to win first-up when he returns in the Class 4 1200m Handicap in Race 4.
FIRE BALL was a model of consistency in nine starts last season for trainer Dennis Yip, winning twice and placing a further five times while never beaten more than 3.75 lengths.
Both FIRE BALL’S wins occurred at this track and distance, and he was most impressive when we last saw him sit handy to the speed and draw away from the 200m to score softly by 1.75 lengths under top jockey Zac Purton.
FIRE BALL has not trialled ahead of his return, but Purton has been aboard for six gallops, which is a positive sign. Standing out as the form choice, with placings behind up-and-comers such as MASTER EIGHT and BLAZE WARRIOR, FIRE BALL looks the one.
Race 1: Crown Avenue drops down in grade and start following. Has not had much luck in recent starts and now into Class 5, while stepping up to 1800m where he is a six-time winner, ticks a few boxes here. Sky Gem go on the win two starts ago and give a chance here, but all wins have been over 2200m. Go Ballistic narrowly beaten last start and goes close with a repeat performance. Wealthy Employee has been placed last two starts and deserves a win soon. Exaltation well placed with the apprentice claim in this race and can surprise.
Race 2: Red Impact broke through last start and is more than capable of winning again in this race. Only lightly raced and could have a few more points in hand. Fast Pace appears to be very well suited by the track and distance of this race and is second-up – match fit. V Chevaliers overlooks his last two runs on the AWT, he has a better chance on this track and should run well. Lucky Diamond best run to date was last start and appears to be improving.
Race 3: Mister Arm making his Class 5 debut and his recent barrier trial showed big improvement. A wide-open race, but he will give some cheek on the lead from the low draw and may be able to hang on. Sunny And Gold had excuses last start and forget the run. Barrier-trialled well for this and expect improvement. Viva Mama a fast beginner who can run well if he finds an easy lead. Xiang Lan Qi faded late last start, chance to improve under right race shape. Who Loves The Ace down in class in this race and should perform better.
Race 4: Fire Ball was an easy last start winner and must be respected. Looks a class above this lot and should be winning his way out of the grade and into Class 3. Happily Friends a last start winner who trialled well since and will be a threat. Happy Tango last start winner who remains in the same grade, maps well from barrier No 2 to suit his pattern. Hero Star recent runs have been encouraging, never beaten far, and can run well. Universal Go Go is capable of running a fast final 400m sectional time and is suited by the drop back in distance.
Race 5: Stormtrouper best run to date was last start and he has trialled very well during the break. Looks ready to get a win on the board. Great Harvest showed he was up to this class after stringing together two wins on end in Class 5 and can go close from the low draw. Plikclone looks a chance if you go on previous consistent form. Another who has been an eye-catcher at the trials. Spicy So Good nice run last start and looks good chance in this race. Whiskey Neat resuming from a break and trialled well recently but has drawn out wide.
Race 6: Fa Fa nice 4yo with a good chance here after winning impressively the last time he stepped out. Gives the indication he was a few more wins to come this season and he looks hard to oppose. Incanto Prepared looks a chance if you go on previous consistent form. Should be mapping well from barrier 3. Smoothies looks overdue for a win and enters this race in good form but barrier No 12 is awkward. Sacred Ibis is back in good form and must be considered a chance. Surrealism is capable of running a fast final 400m sectional time.
Race 7: Exuberant nice 4yo with a good chance here first-up after showing promising ability as a 3yo last term. Compassion Spirit video replay showed last run was very good and he should be given another chance. Simply Fluke winner of last two starts and is a big chance here should the race be run to suit. Classic Posh racing consistently of late and expect another big run but he may be dictated to by the wide draw. Mig Energy has a better chance on this track and should run well.
Race 8: Sight Success has looked very good in recent trials and is rated a chance in a wide-open Class 2. Should still have more to come this term after showing good ability last season, winning three from seven. Loving A Boom generally gets back in the running but dashes strongly home and he is well-overdue for a win. Grateful Heart barrier trialled well ahead of this and should be thereabouts. Hand- some Bo Bo changed stables recently and has improved. Shining Gem is better than recent form indicates and can improve from the low draw – could surprise at odds.