David Hayes is not nervous about his highest-rated galloper’s dirt debut at Sha Tin on Wednesday because the Australian Racing Hall of Fame trainer has borne witness to his sprinter’s all-weather aptitude.
Promoted as potentially the next star of Hong Kong’s sprinting ranks following his fast-time, wide-margin wins in each of his first two races, Nervous Witness has not scaled those dizzy heights, although he has earned more than HK$7 million in prize money and placed a neck second in a Group Three contest.
A three-quarter-length third behind Duke Wai and Courier Wonder in a Sha Tin turf race over 1,200m three and a half weeks ago, Nervous Witness seeks his first win in just under 12 months in Wednesday’s Class Two Tung Wan Handicap (1,200m) on the dirt.
Since Nervous Witness debuted to rave reviews during the opening meeting of the 2021-22 season, he has had six trials on Sha Tin’s all-weather surface for five wins and one runner-up result, with Hayes rightly saying the son of Star Witness “wasn’t trying too hard against the fence” when Star Of Wuyi passed the post before him in their non-competitive clash.
“I thought I’d give it a try,” Hayes said of his decision to enter 102-rater Nervous Witness in the highest-graded event on Wednesday’s dirt-only programme.
“He’s a bit of a one-trick pony. He runs at his pace, and that’s normally the leader,” added Hayes, whose 25 wins this term include three victories on the all-weather track from 21 dirt starters.
Nervous Witness is not the only Tung Wan Handicap runner making his first appearance on Sha Tin’s all-weather circuit. Last-start turf winner Goko Win, first-up Stoltz and Computer Patch are also new to that part of the New Territories venue.
However, Jimmy Ting Koon-ho’s Computer Patch did finish fifth in September’s Group Three Korea Sprint (1,200m), a race that took place on Seoul’s sand track, and Goko Won twice won on synthetic surfaces in Australia.
With Lyle Hewitson beginning his two-meeting ban on Wednesday, he is unable to continue his recent association with Nervous Witness. Keith Yeung Ming-lun partnered Nervous Witness in his Sha Tin dirt trial triumph on March 17, but he is out of action after his second race fall in eight days.
Consequently, Nervous Witness reunites with his most successful rider, champion jockey Zac Purton, for his Tung Wan Handicap assignment from the outside gate. Four-time winner Nervous Witness is three from five with Purton, albeit over no further than 1,000m.
Purton has seven rides on Wednesday’s eight-race card, including assignments aboard three of Hayes’ four runners. Purton steers Awesome Treasure, The Multiplier and Nervous Witness for his compatriot, who also sends Helene Allibor to the meeting.
Luke Currie takes over from Vincent Ho Chak-yiu aboard Helene Allibor. The Australian jockey, who recently won the All-Star Mile at Moonee Valley aboard Mr Brightside for the Hayes family, strives to snap his long run of Hong Kong defeats that stands at 104.
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