Smullen set for HK challenge
South Africa's defending champion Gavin Lerena says he is "hoping for the best" in Wednesday's Longines International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley, while local guns Joao Moreira and Zac Purton are guarded about their prospects of a 2016 win.
Pat Smullen is competing in the Jockeys Challenge
They, of course, are just three of the all-star cast of 12 competing in the celebrated challenge and will face stiff competition from accomplished rivals including Australia's Hugh Bowman and Ireland's Pat Smullen who believe their chances, in theory at least, are better than in previous years.
Last year's runner-up and two time winner Ryan Moore, soon to be crowned the Longines World's Best Jockey for the second time, is sure to be prominent again and 2015 third place-getter, Japan's Keita Tosaki, is keen to improve his performance this year.
South Africa's champion Lerena took the top honours last year when making his first appearance in the Longines IJC. He finished with gusto to take the last two legs of the four-leg series and pocket the HK$500,000 winner's cheque and he's delighted to be back.
"It's fantastic to be here and to test yourself against the very best. You wouldn't pass it up for anything. I'm not too sure about the strength of my rides but that was also the case last year. I'll just go out there and enjoy it, do my best and hope for the best," he said.
Australian ace Bowman, the regular rider of champion mare Winx and a frequently successful visitor to Hong Kong in recent seasons, believes his chances are brighter than in 2015.
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"My rides appear to be better, on paper, than last year so that's the good news. However, it's all very well to have what looks a nice book of rides but you've got to have things go your way. You need some luck around the (Happy) Valley," Bowman said.
Smullen similarly observed that his rides looked to be handy and better than on his previous visit. "At least on paper that is," he said. "I've got two last-time winners with Happy Valley form so that's a good start."
Moreira, the 2012 IJC winner and current Hong Kong champion jockey, was candid in his assessment of his chances. "I don't see them as the best (book of rides) but they're probably not the worst either. I'll just have to try harder," he said.
Purton, another Hong Kong favourite and the former champion jockey, said he was an "outside chance" of winning the title. "I don't have a standout ride but I have a couple who look competitive. I'll be giving it my best and you never know what might happen."
Japan's Tosaki said, with a smile, that he was "out for revenge" after his minor place finish in 2015 while Ryan Moore echoed the thoughts of all competitors when he said: "It's nice to be asked to come here again, it's always a privilege."
Frenchman Florent Geroux, based in the United States, seeks to become the first winner to represent his adopted home on his first appearance in the series but not his first in Hong Kong.
"I was here this time last year and came along as a spectator before riding in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin on the Sunday," he said, in reference to his fifth-place finish on Mongolian Saturday.
"It's an amazing track and it's a privilege to be here. I'm very excited to be here. It's not going to be that strange to me as I have ridden a thousand odd races on right-handed tracks in France and England and Ireland. I'm really looking forward to it," said the man who has ridden 10 G1 winners this year.
Locals Douglas Whyte and Derek Leung, along with Europeans Mickael Barzalona and Mirco Demuro, complete the 2016 line-up for the contest.
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