David Hayes is off to an incredible start this season and his production line of talented young horses rolls out another likely type in Master Aqua on Sunday.
The Australian Hall of Fame trainer is striking at 40 per cent at Sha Tin over the first two
meetings with six winners from his 15 runners and while the volume is not there this weekend – he’s only saddling up four – he still boasts some strong hopes.
At a meeting with only a handful of progressive types, debutant Master Aqua looks a stand-out in the Class Four Hwamei Handicap (1,000m).
The four-year-old son of Headwater has been in training since April, Hayes giving him plenty of time to acclimatise to life in Hong Kong.
He’s been to the trials five times, winning two of them and most recently finishing a short-head second to C P Brave, who is one of the leading hopes in the Class Two Woodpecker Handicap (1,600m) to close the programme.
So that, combined with the fact the stable is flying, means there is a very big watch on Master Aqua. The other factor in his favour is that Zac Purton takes the ride.
The four-time champion jockey has become Hayes’ go-to man in recent months and the results have been exceptional.
Since April, the combination has eight wins from 23 starts (34.8 per cent) with nine minor placings. They’ve only missed the top three on six occasions.
They have joined forces twice at Sha Tin this season and both horses – boom sprinter Nervous Witness and King’s Capital, who delivered Purton his 1,300th Hong Kong victory last week – have saluted.
Hayes and Purton only unite once on Sunday and that’s with Master Aqua.
He’s drawn OK in barrier seven and should be able to settle just off the speed from that spot and then get every chance to show his wares late.
With other first-starters from the stable like Nervous Witness and Lord Thunder getting the job done in recent weeks, there is a sense of expectation for Master Aqua.
“Hopefully he can keep the run of debutants rolling on,” Hayes said. “He’s got Zac Purton on, so he’ll be well in the market.”
The straight-course contest does not appear to be a strong one with just three of the 13 runners having tasted success before.
The Richard Gibson-trained Cordyceps Six prevailed at $108 last season in a Griffin race, David Hall’s Eight Trigrams has won his past two races on the dirt while Glenealy Generals, from the Dennis Yip Chor-hong yard, last entered the winner’s circle during the 2018-19 season.
However, the latter did catch the eye first-up when rattling home for third and superstar jockey Joao Moreira jumps aboard from barrier 13.
Hayes will also saddle up last-start winner Lucky Maryknoll – the only female currently racing
in Hong Kong – with Brazilian jockey Ruan Maia keen to press his credentials for more opportunities in the Class Four Magpie Handicap (1,200m).
Sunny Baby lines up in the Class Four Sunbird Handicap (1,400m) after a solid third on opening day while Helene Allibor kicks off what connections hope to be a Hong Kong Derby campaign in the Class Three Tailorbird Handicap (1,400m).
Keith Yeung Ming-lun, who is still chasing his first winner of the campaign, will partner both of them.