After being shut out for more than four months as Hong Kong has battled its way through a fifth wave of Covid-19, the Champions & Chater Cup meeting on May 22 will see members of the public allowed on course for the first time since January 1.
The final Group One card of the season will boast the biggest crowd since more than 18,000 people converged on Sha Tin on New Year’s Day, with 2,900 public expected to push the total on course, including members and owners, past 5,000.
The crowd will see as many as 10 gallopers battle it out in the HK$12 million Champions & Chater Cup, with defending champion Panfield and fellow Group One winner Russian Emperor headlining the entries released this week.
Trainer Tony Millard is hoping to see another big performance from Panfield in the race as he considers a trip to Japan for next month’s Group One Takarazuka Kinen (2,200m), while he continues to show how big an opinion he has of Nordic Sky.
🏆Champions & Chater Cup (G1)
2400m , 12.000.000 HKD, for 4yo+
(4C Lookin At Lucky – Esterina, by Orpen)
J : K. Teetan
T :A. T. Millard
O : Yue Yun Hing
B : Agricola Taomita Ltd
— 𝙒𝙤𝙧𝙡𝙙𝙍𝙖𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙜 (@WorldRacing1) May 23, 2021
A winner of the Group One Brazilian Derby pre-import, Nordic Sky finished ninth in this year’s Hong Kong Derby on a rating of just 64 and will tackle his first Group One in Hong Kong off a mark of just 69 following a last-start win, 30 points below the next lowest-rated galloper in the field.
That horse is Senor Toba, who along with Columbus County and Zebrowski make up Caspar Fownes’ three-pronged attack on the race, while Danny Shum Chap-shing also has multiple runners with Butterfield and Tourbillion Diamond.
Rounding out the entries are Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Reliable Team and the Tony Cruz-trained Ka Ying Star, who tackles 12 furlongs for the first time at his 44th career start.
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Shum fighting fit
Speaking of Shum, the veteran trainer was back on track at Happy Valley on Wednesday night after missing Saturday’s Sha Tin meeting following minor heart surgery to have a stent inserted into an artery.
The 61-year-old had the procedure last Friday after a series of tests and returned to trackwork on Wednesday morning.
“I’m all OK now,” Shum said with a smile. “I had pains for three or four months so I did all the tests and scans and finally they said I had a narrow vessel that needed opening.
“I had to stay off course for three days because I went to the hospital and the Jockey Club said it was a high-risk place. I had to have three negative PCR tests to come back to work this morning.”
Ricky rockets along
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai endured the slowdown that so often comes after a championship-winning season in Hong Kong but the veteran trainer is on track for one of his biggest hauls outside that magnificent 2019-20 campaign.
After surprising many by surging to 67 winners and his first trainers’ title, Yiu slipped to 12th on the table last term with 33 victories – a mark he sailed past at Sha Tin on Saturday afternoon thanks to the Class Two victory of Good Luck Friend.
Yiu took it up a notch at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, landing a double thanks to victories from Nimble Nimbus and Island Shine, and with 36 winners through 70 of the 88 meetings, he is on track to notch more than 40 successes – something he’s only done on four occasions in his 27-season career.
The 64-year-old sits in sixth position on the trainers’ table and he is confident he has the firepower to push for a top-five finish.
“The stable is full of youngsters and while some of them still need a bit of time for them to perform, there are more winners to come,” he said.