As we move into September it is almost time for the new Racing season to begin in Hong Kong. The season gets underway on Sunday 11th September at Sha Tin and in preparation for the new campaign, the Barrier trials have been going on behind the scenes for the last 3 weeks. Whilst the sport has its issues in every country, the Hong Kong Jockey Club lead the way both in terms of governance and transparency. They should be applauded for the way that all the information and data is easily available to everybody and most importantly, is free to view. This extends to the Barrier trials, all of which are recorded and displayed on their excellent site, a link to which I have placed at the bottom of this piece. Watching the Barrier trials, especially during the closed season, can offer a significant edge in the early weeks of the new campaign and having looked through the races at both Sha Tin and Conghua, I have found a few horses to note when they make their seasonal debuts later this month. We begin with Conghua, which is a training track and Equine centre used by many of the trainers from Hong Kong to prepare their horses and there were 2 horses who ran here in August that caught the eye in their trial races.
Winner of a 1,200m trial on the All-Weather track on 17th August
Medic Elite made more starts than any other horse in Hong Kong last season. There is some context needed with this horse as he is an exposed 5-year-old who has been tried over several different trips with several different tactics and whose record currently stands at 1 win from 28 starts. His only win came over 1,650m in the 2022 International Jockeys challenge when he got a very clever ride from Ryan Moore and gained a deserved success after a string of consistent efforts. He failed to build on that success and ended the season with an official rating of just 25, so there is some caution that needs to be exercised. However, he was eye-catching when winning this Barrier trial against rivals who are rated considerably higher and there was some evidence to suggest that he may be capable of making a fast start to the new season. Having broken slowly, he was outpaced in the early stages but came with a sustained late run in the final 2-furlongs to get his head in front at the line despite being 6-lengths behind the pace at halfway. The final time was 1:11.57, which was just 0.06s slower than the other Barrier trial on the day won by Super Commander and the sectional splits were relatively similar. He managed to get the better of More Rice and Cosmo Navigator, who have official ratings of 51 and 49 respectively, although it should be noted that both are very lightly raced in Hong Kong. The time figure looks solid in the context of other recent trials run at Conghua and from a rating of 25, he will at least begin his season below his last winning mark and with a low weight on his back. He is unlikely to be climbing through the grades, but his overall profile is that of a horse who may well be overlooked in the market and on the evidence of his barrier trial, that may prove to be unfair.
Winner of a 1,200m trial on the All-Weather track on 17th August and a 1,000m trial on the Turf track on 28th August
Super Commander is a confirmed front runner. All his best form in Hong Kong, including all 4 of his victories, has come when he has either made the running or raced in the first 2. It is not surprising then to see that he has won a pair of Barrier trials over the summer break by making all the running. He got the better of Desert Star on 17th August on the All-Weather track, which he was probably entitled to do based on their respective form, but his second victory, this time on the turf track was much more interesting. He flew out of the gates and was already over 3-lengths clear at the end of the opening furlong and by the time they had reached halfway he had doubled that advantage. He went on to record the fastest time of the day, completing the 1,000m trip in 58.34s which included the fastest middle section of 21.4s too. All Barrier trial form needs to be taken with some caution but racing on his own down the centre of the track, he confirmed that he is at peak fitness and should start the season in top form. He made a winning start to the last campaign when he won over 5-furlongs on the opening night at Happy Valley and although he is now racing off a much higher mark, he looks likely to make another good start to the new campaign this time around, especially if the draw is kind.