Giant Turtle riding a wave of confidence in Hong Kong

HorseRacingNation.com
February 01, 2017 05:49am
Giant Turtle lands back-to-back victories at Happy Valley last start.
Photo: The Hong Kong Jockey Club

At one point in Giant Turtle’s Hong Kong career, it seemed unlikely that he would ever find a suitable race, but the five-year-old is riding a wave of confidence and jockey Chad Schofield believes he is ready to show his full potential by scoring a third consecutive victory in the Class 3 Mut Wah Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley on Thursday night (2 February).
 
“He’s in a real good space at the moment,” Schofield said at Sha Tin trackwork on Wednesday morning (1 February). “He came here pretty highly-rated, he was a New Zealand Derby horse, and he’s dropped all the way down to Class 4. Now he’s working his way back up again, and his last two runs would have been a confidence booster too.”
 
Imported from New Zealand in May, 2015, Giant Turtle (118lb) had won just one of his six starts when trained by Bruce Wallace. However, the gangly gelding’s best piece of form came with a second in the G2 Waikato Guineas (2000m), beaten a half-length by two-time New Zealand Horse of the Year Mongolian Khan, a performance that earned him a starting local rating of 82 when he debuted at Sha Tin in September, 2015.
 
Giant Turtle’s first 10 Hong Kong starts were a disappointment, though, as he finished no better than 11th, beating a total of 11 horses in those runs. His temperament got the better of him and he struggled to acclimatise to Hong Kong – first for trainer Gary Ng and then for Andreas Schutz.
 
However, under Schutz, he finally turned his form around at the end of the season, and new trainer Tony Millard has been able to capitalise this term. The son of the late Zabeel began this campaign with two seconds at Happy Valley before putting together two wins in Class 4 at the city circuit, the latest a facile two and a quarter length success under Schofield.
 
Schofield is reunited with the bay as he steps back up into Class 3 and the rider is confident that a hat-trick is in the offing for the gelding.
 
“He’s obviously won his last two, his last win was quite soft with me albeit in a weaker grade,” he said. “Again we’ve drawn nicely, we’ll get a nice run and we should be going very close. It’s a handy field, a couple of in-form horses in there, but he is too and it’s going to be interesting to see how he goes up in class.
 
“He’s quite a temperamental horse, so no doubt, prior to his purple patch, he would have been real down with confidence. Since the switch to Tony, he’s really turned it around and he’s been running very well so let’s hope that can continue.”
 
One of his main rivals looks to be Tony Cruz-trained California Joy, who entered the season as a contender for March’s BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) but had disappointed before winning last time under Neil Callan. He returns to the same course and distance here with Callan partnering him once more.
 
“He dropped a few points in the ratings leading into last start,” the jockey said. “He’s a lovely, big striding horse, he’s got such a great stride on him, but I just noticed from riding him last time out, from the gates, I just let him find a rhythm. He got his rhythm going very early and, although he was up on the speed, they weren’t going too hard and they weren’t going too slow so he was able to just keep that rhythm pretty much the whole way. When he hit the straight, he gave me something, so I’d imagine it would be a similar sort of thing – if they go too slow, it doesn’t help him, if they go too fast, he’s not going to finish off. He’s got a good draw so hopefully he finds a similar scenario and wins again.”
 
Callan dismissed thoughts of the Derby, though, suggesting the horse still has a fair bit to find if he is to be competitive against the best four-year-olds in Hong Kong.
 
“He might jump a class from here with everything going right for him,” the Irishman said. “But I don’t think the Derby will be on anybody’s mind for him anyway. There are other races for him.”
 
The Class 3 also features honest types Beauty Prince (132lb) and The Sylph (118lb), both having only won a race each in Hong Kong but both consistent place-getters.
 
The Mut Wah Handicap ends the eight-race card at Happy Valley and is scheduled to jump at 10:50pm.
 
Top sprint form to bring out best in Divine Boy
 
A race earlier, Schofield partners Divine Boy (133lb) in the Class 3 Hung To Handicap (1200m). The Street Cry gelding was rubbing shoulders with some of the best sprinters in town not too many months back.
 
A fourth in the HKG2 Sprint Cup (1200m) in April, behind Lucky Bubbles, Amazing Kids and Packing Pins, was followed up by a respectable seventh in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) to Australian grey Chautauqua. That effort saw him finish ahead of gun local speedsters Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia, who have won the last three G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprints between them, as well as top international raiders Mongolian Saturday and Buffering.
 
Trainer Me Tsui has been experimenting with the five-year-old over longer trips but returns him to the shorter journey on Thursday night, and Schofield enters with a hint of confidence.
 
“I haven’t ridden him in his recent races, I last rode him in a Group 3 in May, but I galloped him recently and he feels in good order,” he said. “He's dropped down to a winning rating now, he won off a similar mark over this trip at Happy Valley before, and this is a Class 3 too. If he can find similar form to what he was showing last season behind some of those really good horses then he should be very competitive tomorrow night.”
 
Jockey Karis Teetan also believes that Back In Black (132lb) will be suited back in the extended band Class 3 with a return to Happy Valley. The Mauritian rider was aboard for three of the grey’s five wins last season, and had his first association with the five-year-old this term when he partnered him into 11th in a Class 2 over the Sha Tin 1200m last time out.
 
“I would ignore the last run,” Teetan said. “He was drawn outside and he didn’t have a perfect run, he wasn’t comfortable the whole way around the turn, so for me I would ignore it going forward. He’s won a few races at Happy Valley, he does love the track there and I know him pretty well. This time he’s got a good draw so that will be a big benefit, and I think going forward with a good draw, I think he’s got a big chance.
 
“He’s gone up in the ratings last season a lot and this season, he’s competing against a lot of good horses, but now going down one grade could just make it much easier for him. It looks like things are going his way again.”

Other contenders include John Size’s giant four-year-old Love Shock (130lb), who returns to the course and distance of a dominant win two starts back, and John Moore-trained gelding Green Card (126lb).
 
The Class 3 Hung To Handicap is scheduled as the seventh race at 10:15pm, with the opener, the Class 4 Shing Yip Handicap (1000m), set to jump at 7:15pm.
 
Source: The Hong Kong Jockey Club (Andrew Hawkins)

 

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