They sent him around as second favourite in last year’s Hong Kong Sprint and local punters are again expected to pile into Classique Legend to kick off the busiest run of Australian spring simulcasts since 2017.
The Jockey Club’s punt on The Everest could not be looking any better days out from the race, with Boniface Ho Ka-kui’s striking grey set to generate significant interest among Hong Kong punters in his first race since international day last year.
In the biggest offering since a quarantine dispute between Hong Kong and Australia interrupted proceedings, the Jockey Club will simulcast The Everest and the Caulfield Cup on Saturday before also showing Victoria Derby day and Melbourne Cup day in the coming weeks.
The two-year stand-off started in late 2017 and coincided with a downturn in Jockey Club simulcasts from Down Under, with only two Australian spring meetings offered to Hong Kong punters in each of the past three years.
The impasse, which was resolved in November 2019, stemmed from the Australian government’s concerns around the addition of the Jockey Club’s Conghua Racecourse in mainland China to Hong Kong’s equine biosphere – severely restricting horse movement between the two jurisdictions.
The Jockey Club sighted a “shift in priorities” for pulling certain simulcasts in the ensuing years and the selection criteria has long involved finding races likely to have a bearing on the Hong Kong International Races and Champions Day.
While it’s unusual for the Jockey Club to simulcast a stand-alone race that isn’t a Group One, officials are confident in the “Group One quality” of The Everest and remain hopeful of Australian involvement on international day in December.
The popularity of simulcast wagering has boomed in Hong Kong, with the recent Sprinters Stakes in Japan attracting turnover of over HK$51 million as part of a seven-race programme that saw HK$265.3 million bet and The Everest is likely to see as much as HK$40 million punted.
Maia determined to ‘keep fighting’
Not even 14 months ago, on August 23 last year, Ruan Maia lit up Kranji with seven winners on one day.
Exactly 200 rides into his Hong Kong career, the 33-year-old’s output in his new home has finally gone past what he managed on that single Singapore afternoon.
While it’s far from the worst start to a Hong Kong career, the hope that Maia would turn Lion City brilliance into sustained success here – like compatriot Joao Moreira – is yet to eventuate.
While Maia didn’t come to Hong Kong with the same CV as Moreira – he was runner-up in the jockeys’ championship in his only full Singapore campaign whereas the Magic Man bagged four titles before amassing 97 winners in his first season at Sha Tin – he did arrive with some expectation.
His victory aboard $53 chance Chancheng Prince on Sunday was his second of the campaign and only two jockeys have had fewer rides than him this campaign, although he did miss two meetings after an opening-day suspension.
“I’m very happy because I’ve had only a few rides with limited chances to do something,” he said after the victory. “It’s tough to stay motivated because you ask the trainers and there is no positive, so it’s very tough.”
When you dig a little deeper, the Brazilian’s numbers for 2021-22 stack up reasonably well – his winning strike rate of 12 per cent puts him behind only Zac Purton, Moreira and Blake Shinn and he has only ridden one favourite, putting his win haul ahead of market expectation.
On top of that he is one of only a handful of jockeys profitable to punters, with a $10 bet on all of his mounts this season returning $451, while he has also finished third on rank outsider Kowloon East Star at $20 a place.
Opportunities are king in Hong Kong and winning is the only currency, but there’s also the need for a steely resolve while things aren’t going so well.
A defiant Maia certainly has the latter and his statistics suggest there’s hope he can build the former: “I will keep fighting”.