Conte (123lb) has soared through the grades in a short space of time and at Sha Tin on Saturday the unbeaten four-year-old will attempt to complete a five-timer.
Champion jockey Joao Moreira has been ever-present and will take the reins again for the exciting prospect’s first start in Class 2, which will also be his maiden attempt at a mile. The Brazilian is optimistic of maintaining a perfect connection with the John Size-trained galloper.
“He’s been doing everything in a straightforward manner, so I believe he’s capable of winning five in a row,” Moreira said at Sha Tin this morning, Friday, 9 February.
And after posting impressive wins at 1400m in his last three starts, following an easy career debut score over 1200m as recently as 5 November, Moreira sees no issue with the gelding going over more ground this time.
“I don’t have any concerns,” he said. “He’s kind enough in the way he races; last time I was in front but I was very light on his mouth and to me that’s good enough - I’m not worried about the mile.”
Conte extends his winning streak to four last start, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The Starcraft chestnut has risen 34 points in the ratings to a mark of 86 and finds himself pitched against proven Class 2 stalwarts as well as a couple of emerging talents that Moreira knows only too well.
The jockey partnered recent Hong Kong Classic Mile contender Lockheed (125lb) at his first two Hong Kong outings, and was aboard the John Moore-trained three-year-old Easy Go Easy Win (123lb) in his two starts so far at Sha Tin.
“They both are very nice horses as well,” Moreira said, “but if I had to choose between them all I’d still stick with Conte. I have him ahead of them, just a tiny bit though, because I still have a high opinion of those other two horses.”
Moore’s stable jockey Tommy Berry will take over on Easy Go Easy Win. The rider knew the Savabeel gelding as a raw but promising thrice-raced maiden for John Sargent in Australia.
“He’s always shown a bit of class since he’s come to Hong Kong,” Berry said. “I rode him in a couple of trials back in Australia before I came here, John owned him at that stage and I remember calling him and telling him, ‘You have a very nice horse on your hands.’ So there was always the indication that he was going to come to Hong Kong once he finished his two-year-old prep there. He always had a bit of class there.”
Easy Go Easy Win has progressed well since arriving in Hong Kong, winning first-up at 1200m in December and then placing a perhaps unlucky third to Pingwu Spark over 1400m last month, both times under Moreira.
“He’s a lot bigger horse now, a lot stronger,” Berry said. “I’ve ridden him a couple of times in the last couple of weeks and the difference between the start of the season and now in his strength is massive.”
Easy Go Easy Win (right) scores on his Hong Kong debut, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Berry galloped Easy Go Easy Win on the turf on Thursday morning, clocking 55.9s for 800m (31.0, 24.9).
“His work on the grass was pretty good and he ran through the line very strongly - I can’t fault him,” he said.
“To me, it looks like a two-horse race on paper. Conte is going to be very hard to beat, but obviously Conte is stepping up into this grade for the first time whereas my bloke ran in it last time. But I’m sure Conte won’t have too many problems with it, he’s been pretty impressive. He has a bit more race experience under his belt so he’s got that in his corner, but my horse has class on his side too.
“I think he can measure up to these Class 2 horses, even though he’s still only a three-year-old,” he continued. “It’s going to be an interesting race, but he’s got everything in his favour to run a good race.”
The field of 10 also features Conte’s stablemate Eastern Express (129lb), Keen Venture (127lb), BMW Hong Kong Derby entrants Dragon Lips (125lb), Last Kingdom (123lb) and Zilong (120lb), Spicy Sure (124lb) and Hang’s Decision (118lb).
The 10-race card will wrap up with the concluding Class 2 Po Yan Handicap (1200m). Jockey Matthew Chadwick is looking for a bit of improvement from all-the-way last time winner California Fortune, trained by Tony Cruz.
“I think he surprised a few of us,” he said. “We knew he was a nice little horse but the way he won showed that he’s got some more potential than we probably saw.
“He looks after himself a bit in his work and he’s come out of that last race a little bit better. But he’s up in grade this time so it’s a stern test. I think, the way he won last time, leading would be the best option for him. I don’t think it’s completely necessary though. He’s well-mannered, his character’s calm, so I’d expect if he has to come and sit back off them he could.”
Saturday’s card starts with the Class 4 Bonham Handicap (1000m) at 1pm.
California Fortune (front) makes all to win the Lok Sin Tong Cup last month, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club