12/06/2016 3:54PM

Happy Valley: International Jockey's Championship highlights card

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HONG KONG – The featured race Wednesday night at Happy Valley Racecourse is the $225,646 Australia Handicap at about nine furlongs, but the main event is the annual Longines International Jockey’s Championship.

Eleven jockeys, including Ryan Moore, Hong Kong Champion Joao Moreira, and United States-based Florent Geroux all were randomly assigned mounts in races 4,5,7, and 8 on Wednesday’s nine-race program. Points are awarded for placings on the designated races, and the leading point-earner after race 8 will be declared the winner and awarded $64,000 in prize money.

Happy Valley is a tricky track to ride. The course goes right-handed and features an extremely sharp bend into the homestretch. An outside draw can all but doom a horse’s chances. The first of the challenge races is at about five furlongs around one turn; the other three are just longer than one mile and encompass a little more than one circuit around the track.

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Geroux drew the highest-rated horse in race 4 – a Class 4 handicap for horses rated just 40 to 60 – in Secret Agent, but Secret Agent has post 10 and no clear advantage on several others in a mind-bender of a race. Powermax, who has raced only once, was a decent closing third under similar conditions last month and rates the narrowest edge. St. Yazin, Moreira’s mount, might appreciate turning back in trip from 1,200 to 1,000 meters.

Race 5, at the same level but at 1,650 meters, gets no easier. Team Sweet, the mount of Pat Smullen, wasn’t awful in a Class 3 handicap in his lone Happy Valley try, but would hold more appeal had he not drawn post 10. His last start came on the all-weather track, and his rating recently has been lowered just enough for him to qualify for this race. Moreira is on the top-rated Good Choice, a hold-up horse like Team Sweet, while Geroux has the speed in Sparkling Sword. Moore, however, could well be on a live mount in Giant Turtle, who exits consecutive difficult trips.

The competition moves on to race 7, which has the same conditions as race 5, and Geroux has landed a solid chance in Works of Art. In his most recent start Nov. 9, Works of Art won a race just like this by two lengths, but even a significant eight-point rating increase, to 58, does not force him up a class, and Works of Art is decently drawn in post 7.

Race 8 is a Class 3 handicap for horses rated 60-80, with Ten Flames (Smullen) and Bullish Smart (Mirco Dimuro) at the top of the ratings. Ten Flames is a Happy Valley specialist that comes off a win in a similar spot, but both he and Bullish Smart drew poorly on the outside. Moore’s mount, Beauty Prince, showed improved positional speed in his most recent start and has lost his last two, both over this trip at  Happy Valley, by just a neck each time. Perhaps the world’s top-rated jockey can make a difference.

As for the featured Australia Handicap, race 9, Winnie’s Honey – a 6-year-old who has only raced six times in Hong Kong – might well be the sharpest horse in the race, but he has zero positional speed and comes roaring from the back of the pack. Thus, he will always be subject to pace and luck, both of which were on his side in a blowout win at this level Oct. 16. Winnie’s Honey also must pick up considerable weight after scoring by more than three lengths going away.