08/31/2017 2:56PM

Hong Kong kicks off rich 2017-18 season Sunday

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Pakistan Star has missed training time recently with a foot bruise.

Its engines scarcely cooled from the 2016-17 season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has revved them up again for the 2017-18 season, which begins Sunday at Sha Tin.

The season, as it did this year, runs through July, and thanks to HKJC efforts to broaden the international viability of its product, more race fans around the world than ever before know it.

Free past performances, race analysis, and selections, plus replays, video previews, and stakes schedules all are now available through Daily Racing Form.

Sunday’s opening card, composed of 10 races, has the $319,458 Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap over 1,200 meters (about six furlongs) on turf as its feature. First post is 1 am. Eastern, with the Chief Executive’s set for 2.

The standard Hong Kong race week is Sunday afternoons at Sha Tin and Wednesday nights at Happy Valley, though there also is one Saturday card per month at Sha Tin. All racing in Hong Kong is conducted right-handed. The Sha Tin course is far more expansive than Happy Valley’s, and Sha Tin has a second track that often is locally referred to as “all weather” but is dirt.

Picturesque Happy Valley is situated in the heart of Hong Kong and very much is a specialists’ course, irregularly shaped with tight turns.

The crowds throng to Happy Valley, but all the biggest races come at Sha Tin, which this year hosts the most important day of the season on Sunday, Dec. 10. That card includes four Group 1 turf races: the Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Sprint, Hong Kong Mile, and Hong Kong Vase.

Hong Kong uses a handicap system, with horses eligible to certain races through their official rating. The Chief Executive’s Cup, for instance, is for horses rated 90 and above, and there are races on the Sunday card for horses rated between 0 and 40. Horses at all levels run for excellent purses, which throughout the course of this season will total more than $268.3 million.

Hong Kong has no breeding industry, and its horse population is entirely imported, with new sets of horses joining the colony each year mainly from Australasia and Europe. Hong Kong owners often change a horse’s name upon importation, and early-season races help sort out the newcomers. There are no races for 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are in fairly limited supply, with the bulk of races are for horses ages 4 and older.

The best horse last season in Hong Kong, Rapper Dragon, tragically broke his pelvis May 7 in the Champion’s Mile and could not be saved. Meanwhile, Pakistan Star, perhaps Hong Kong’s most notorious horse, ended his season in June by refusing to race in the Champion’s Plate Handicap. Pakistan Star has talent to match his quirks, but a recent foot bruise has compromised his training.

Other major horses to watch are Nothinglikemore, Hot King Prawn, Mr. Stunning, and Thewizardofoz.

The HKJC tightly controls the trainer and jockey colonies, and the two new Hong Kong trainers for the season are the first in five years. Michael Freedman, an Australian, has 45 horses in his yard, while Frankie Lor has a 56-horse string. Lor is a former assistant to trainers John Moore and John Size, who run the two most powerful operations in Hong Kong.

Moore has brought in a new retained rider, Tommy Berry, whose arrival will have an impact on leading jockey Joao Moreira, one of Moore’s main riders during 2016-17.

Apprentice jockeys are in steady demand to take advantage of favorable weighting in the handicap ranks.

The best horse in the opening-day feature, Blizzard, is anything but favorably weighted. Blizzard, a solid group-stakes-level sprinter last season, totes 133 pounds, giving 15 to 20 pounds to his six rivals in the Chief Executive’s. A wet forecast also calls into question the wisdom of taking a short price on Blizzard, who could use Sunday’s race as a springboard to the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in Japan.

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