Grant van Niekerk has enjoyed a fine debut season in Hong Kong and he’s looking to cap it with a breakthrough feature race success aboard Flying Thunder in Sunday’s G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m).
“I’m hoping I can have my first Group winner in Hong Kong,” the South African jockey said. “If you finish on a high like that you’ll come back next season with some confidence so I’m looking to finish strongly.”
Van Niekerk has tallied 26 wins this season, including five doubles, and the 27-year-old is hopeful that Flying Thunder’s late dash will seal another victory.
“He’s got a lovely turn-of-foot. It’s a smallish field this time so as long as he’s travelling comfortably with me he’ll have a good finish again,” he said.
Flying Thunder has won once from six outings. That success came with Van Niekerk in the saddle just two starts ago, when the gelding surged from the rear of the field to score an eye-catching half-length success.
The British import has clocked the fastest final sectional in both of his last two races. The son of Archipenko has rattled home from the rear but Van Niekerk admits that this could change with a small field and a good draw in gate three.
“He is a horse that doesn't like to be pressurised early on; he doesn’t seem to enjoy it,” he said. “He showed that in his early couple of starts so I’ll just ride him with a little more confidence and hopefully they’ll go a decent pace for me.
“I’ll have him a little bit closer from that gate, I’ll try to have him as close as I can, depending on how the pace is run, and I’m pretty sure he’ll have a good kick.”
Grant van Niekerk celebrates success aboard Flying Thunder, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Flying Thunder carried 126lb to a half-length defeat last start but this time will shoulder bottom-weight of 113lb in the field of eight.
“He’s in good form,” trainer Frankie Lor said. “He’ll carry the light weight so I think that is better for him and 1400 metres is no problem.”
Flying Thunder is one of three horses currently racing in Hong Kong sired by the late Archipenko. The other two are the G1-winning siblings Time Warp and Glorious Forever.
Lor heads into Sunday’s G3 affair with a dual pronged attack, also saddling up Morethanlucky (120lb) with Umberto Rispoli booked to ride.
Morethanlucky finished ninth in the Class 1 Hong Kong Macau Trophy last start and has since had a month off to refresh.
“I just gave him a break and he looks much better,” the trainer said.
Styling for Schofield
Chad Schofield has developed a solid working relationship with John Moore in recent months and the young Australian is keen to deliver his biggest win for the master handler in the Premier Cup with Styling City.
“I’ve been riding a fair bit for him, it’s good to get a nice chance like Styling City and hopefully I can bring it home,” Schofield said.
The jockey has tallied four wins from 39 rides this season for Moore but Sunday’s G3 will be the first time he is legged aboard Styling City.
“It seems a nice race for him,” Schofield said. “He’s obviously a nice young horse, he’s raced through the grades and he’s now in a Group 3 with a light weight. Small field, not much pace: I’d say we’ll be up there making our own luck, and, with no weight on his back, hopefully he’s hard to catch.”
Styling City progressed from being a dual Griffin winner in his first season to notching a hat-trick of wins earlier this season before placing at G3 level in the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1000m).
“Normally, in these Group race handicaps it favours the light-weight horses. He’s young and up-and-coming so hopefully he can get it done,” Schofield said.
Hong Kong’s champion jockey Zac Purton will ride Benno Yung’s grey Pingwu Spark (133lb), sharing top weight duties with the Vincent Ho-ridden Winner’s Way (133lb).
Matthew Poon will seek a second G3 success with Jolly Banner (127lb), while Joao Moreira and John Size team up with Time To Celebrate (122lb), and Dragon General (117lb) takes his place for Me Tsui.
Sunday’s 10-race card at Sha Tin begins at 12.45pm with the Class 5 Tate’s Cairn Handicap (1200m) and also features the G3 Premier Plate Handicap (1800m).