Thewizardofoz heads into the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday as perhaps Hong Kong racing’s most prominent enigma.
Despite rising to a lofty second place in the Hong Kong ratings with a mark of 128, just two points shy of stablemate and Sunday’s rival Mr Stunning, John Size’s mercurial charge has not yet proven his apparent talent outside of a handicap setting.
Champion jockey Joao Moreira believes the well-bred son of Redoute’s Choice is capable and ready to take the step up.
“If you look back on his record, when he was winning tough races easily, you have to believe he’s a chance on Sunday,” he said, recalling an unanswered hat-trick of 1200m wins during Thewizardofoz’s debut season, a subsequent brace of comfortable scores in Class 2 and Class 1, and an impressive victory in last term’s G3 Premier Cup Handicap, all at 1400m.
Moreira, though, has placed his faith in the six-year-old in major races before, only to be let down: fifth as favourite for the 2016 Hong Kong Classic Mile; 10th in the same season’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m); 11th and ninth in the last two editions of the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m).
Thewizardofoz lands last season’s G3 Premier Cup in style with Joao Moreira in the saddle, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
But the lightly-raced Australian-bred - six wins from 15 starts - keeps showing enough to suggest that when everything clicks into place, he has the latent ability to snare a big prize. Thewizardofoz’s latest barrier trial is a case in point: six days ago, the bay cruised away from his fellow triallists - top sprinter Peniaphobia and Champion Miler Beauty Only included - to pass the post five and three-quarter lengths clear over 1200m of Sha Tin’s dirt track.
“He felt great,” Moreira said, with enthusiastic emphasis on the last word. “He felt like we’re going to see him do his best again.”
That best was his three-length demolition of the Premier Cup field last June, under top-weight of 133lb. That showboat three and a half-length score, combined with a strong pre-race trial upsides Mr Stunning, meant Thewizardofoz started 2/1 second pick for his first-up run in the Premier Bowl Handicap last month. He ran home four lengths behind Mr Stunning.
“I don’t think his last run was too bad,” Moreira said. “I honestly was expecting a bit more than he showed, but after that I watched the replays a couple of times and realised it wasn’t too bad for a horse that was having his first run this season.”
After Thewizardofoz’s poor showing in the previous year’s Premier Bowl, Size allowed his charge time off. He returned in the spring with three smart efforts, including fourth to Lucky Bubbles in last May’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), before rounding out his season with exciting emphasis.
This time around, with that fair first-up run and some smart trackwork as his foundations, Moreira is hopeful that a more mature Thewizardofoz will be up to the weekend’s task. The 11-strong field features the top-rated Mr Stunning, G1 winners Lucky Bubbles and Peniaphobia, as well as the likes of Amazing Kids, last year’s winner Not Listenin’tome and the emerging Southern Legend.
“I know there are very good horses in the race but I still have faith in him,” he said.
“Once he brings his A game, even facing the best horses in town, I believe he’ll be up to it, and it could be this time. He has a run under his belt already and his trial was really good, so there are reasons to be confident that he will deliver his best again this time. He’s going to be right there if he brings his best.”
A ‘but’ still hangs in the air, though.
“You wonder if you’re going to be able to see it,” Moreira added.
Sunday’s G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint, G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m) and G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) are the prime lead-up races to the four G1 contests at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 10 December.