All eyes will be on Atomic Force at Happy Valley this Wednesday evening (9 March) as the talented youngster aims to transfer his European exploits to Hong Kong when he tackles a hot Class 3 Hing Tung Handicap (1000m).
Donning the famed black and red silks of the Siu family, Atomic Force – formerly trained by Kevin Ryan in Great Britain – makes his debut in the Far East under Vincent Ho following three exciting wins prior to import, including two in France by five lengths in the Group 3 Prix du Bois (1200m) and two and a half lengths in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin (1200m).
“When they come to Hong Kong – it is a totally different environment. Of course, he is a good horse, but the change in environment and all that comes with it, we still can’t be 100 percent confident, but ability-wise – I am confident,” Ho said.
Atomic Force – the first of Cotai Glory’s progeny to race in Hong Kong – is unbeaten since being gelded after his first and only defeat on debut at Musselburgh in Great Britain.
“I think he’s a decent horse – he looked pretty impressive in France but also, Hong Kong’s sprinters are very, very strong, so you can’t underestimate them, but I have confidence in him and for sure, he will improve after the run,” Ho said.
Atomic Force (132lb) faces stiff opposition on debut, including Nervous Witness (130lb), The Runner (133lb), Valiant Dream (133lb), Winner Method (130lb) and Special M (123lb).
“He can get quite keen in the run, he jumps out well but after jumping out he should definitely settle more and the Happy Valley turn might help him a little bit to do that, just to take a chill pill, breathe a little and not burn out of everything,” Ho said.
The chestnut led throughout at his final start before switching to Hong Kong, extending down the straight at Chantilly for a comfortable score under jockey Stephane Pasquier.
“He has a lot of time to improve, so he is an exciting little horse and Caspar (Fownes) thinks he is a good horse – he should run well,” Ho said.
Earlier this morning (Tuesday, 8 March), Ho partnered Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) winner Stronger in a trial over 1000m at Sha Tin – finishing third atop the chestnut.
“He was fresh, he didn’t do much for a month, so he was pretty fresh, and he was a little bit keen but that’s just him – after this trial usually he settles a lot more and also, he’s still very fit.
“I was happy with his trial, I held him strongly all of the way, but he just wanted to do so much, I just tried to let him have a good blow and stretch out his legs,” Ho said.
Ho will next partner Stronger in the Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) on 3 April at Sha Tin before the pair tackles the HKD$20 million Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) together on FWD Champions Day (24 April) – both days when the 31-year-old ace also gets the leg-up on Hong Kong’s superstar galloper Golden Sixty.
Heading towards the HKD$65 million showcase at Sha Tin next month, Golden Sixty will first tackle the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) before looking to join Bullish Luck (2005 & 2006), Xtension (2011 & 2012) and Beauty Generation (2018 & 2019) as successive victors of the HKD$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m).
“The stable has reported he is good, he is doing well – they are keeping him happy and it’s all good. We’re going to race in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m, 3 April) and then the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m, 24 April),” Ho outlined.
Last year, Golden Sixty went directly from victory in the 2021 Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) to the FWD Champions Mile, however, this term – with fewer runs under his belt – Golden Sixty will have a tune-up before his end-of-season target.
“This year he hasn’t run as much, so there’s no harm for him to race in the Group 2, he’s a tough horse and hopefully there’s no rain, but even in saying that, you never know and that was his first time in the wet last start, so he might have already learnt something and he might already know how to adapt to those conditions – he is a fast learner and horses like him can adapt to different tracks and conditions,” Ho said.
Last start, Golden Sixty suffered a second consecutive defeat after Russian Emperor ran away with the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup on yielding ground under relentless rain at Sha Tin.
“It was a few days of non-stop rain and then it continued to only get worse, earlier in the day we might have still had a good chance, but definitely, Douglas’ horses (Russian Emperor and Savvy Nine) can produce a few lengths better in the rain,” Ho said.
Last year, Ho captured two out of the three Group 1 features on FWD Champions Day aboard Golden Sixty and Loves Only You, who claimed the Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).
The next two months are shaping as a big period for Ho as he also prepares to link up with Rocket Spade in the HKD$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on Sunday, 20 March.
“Getting up to 2000 metres, that’s his game – he’s won over 2400 and 2000 metres is fine – it’s closer to his distance and I think he is the dark horse in the race.
“Senor Toba looks really good, but I think my horse, over 2000 metres – people will finally see something from him,” Ho said.