In the throes of his first campaign in Hong Kong, the multiple former New Zealand champion trainer has systematically amassed 18 wins from 178 starters after a deliberately conservative start to the season.
With 53 Group 1 victories during a record-breaking six-and-a-half year stint at Te Akau Racing, Richards is familiar with elite success and is hopeful Alacrity – a Chilean Group 1 winner as Viejos Tiempos – can build on an eye-catching fourth behind leading Hong Kong Derby contender Beauty Eternal over 1400m at Sha Tin on 12 February.
“He's a high-class horse who came into Hong Kong with good form, so it wasn't a complete surprise that he ran well first-up,” Richards said. “He's got an awkward barrier (13) this weekend, so I'd say we'd have to ride him a similar way to how we rode him first time, but he's going need luck and he's going to need pace in the race to finish it off – but looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Richards is acutely aware the 78-rater needs to press for victory on Sunday to enhance Derby hopes.
“He needs to probably to win on the weekend – if not, run top three – to get his rating up a little bit higher. We're certainly trying to get him there (to the Derby) and from a more favourable draw, I would have probably been quite confident that he was going well enough to figure in the finish, but he's going to need a lot of luck from the outside barrier,” he said before explaining the decision to remove cheek pieces.
“He just wanted to overdo it a little bit in the early part of the race last time, so we took the cheek pieces off for this weekend's run – only a minor gear adjustment – but just trying to make him relax a bit more in the early part of the race.”
Karis Teetan, who partnered Romantic Warrior to victory in the 2022 BMW Hong Kong Derby, is adamant Alacrity is worthy of Classic consideration.
“I think he's definitely a Derby horse – the further he goes, the better he will get – so it's a race that's very important for the horse and if he runs well, he could be going for the Derby,” the Mauritian said.
“We were all happy with his first run, he finished off well and that shows improvement is coming. He's a horse that needs ground, we don't have many options from that draw.”
Hugh Bowman continues his partnership with Running Glory when John Size's diminutive stayer bids for consecutive wins when he contests the Class 2 Rutland Handicap (1800m), confident the five-year-old can continue to flourish.
“Pleased to be reuniting with him and he does carry top weight (135lb) this time and he's not a big horse, but what he lacks in size he certainly makes up for with courage. He's a very consistent horse – he's got an outstanding record – and despite being at the top of the handicap, he looks well placed again,” Bowman said.
“He's just got a great attitude. He's quite versatile from a tactical point of view and he gets into a good rhythm and he saves himself for the final effort, which is most important. You'd like to think I'm going to get the run of the race and if it's an evenly run race, he's going to get into that beautiful rhythm.
“If he's close enough to fight out the finish, he'll get his nose in front.”
Facing Courier Wonder (135lb), Duke Wai (132lb), Master Eight (125lb), Rewarding Together (123lb), Blaze Warrior (121lb) and Campione (121lb), Nervous Witness (122lb) and Lucky With You (118lb) are both searching for improvement in form.
Hayes will use a hood on Nervous Witness as the speedster attempts to master the 1200m trip against quality opposition.
“His weakness is that he gets too aggressive and in the upper-class races, if you're pulling you don't win. We just hope the hood takes 10 percent off him and relaxes well,” the dual champion Hong Kong trainer said.
“Now that he's well into his preparation after three runs and a trial, there's no reason why he won't run 1200 metres but how easy he's going to get it through the first 600 metres from barrier eight, is the question.”
Hayes has freshened Lucky With You since a last-start failure.
“He's had an impressive trial and he'll come from off the pace and if they go too fast, he might be a chance. He's probably got to run a PB (personal best) to beat these horses, but trackwork suggests he might be ready to do that. “If it's last-man standing, he might be the one to join in,” Hayes said.