Silvestre de Sousa heads into Wednesday night's nine-race fixture at Happy Valley in the hope of securing a third consecutive win aboard Encountered (132lb) in the Class 3 Tsui Man Handicap (1650m).
Eligible for the remaining two legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, Encountered sprang to prominence last season with a shock victory at odds of +19800 at Sha Tin before adding a pair of Happy Valley wins to his record this term.
The improving Churchill gelding will step away from gate five with De Sousa aboard for the third time for trainer Manfred Man.
“He's improved since they put the blinkers on him and he's been winning from outside gates – this time we have gate five which is better. I just hope things can go his way, he's carrying a lot of weight and the horses down the bottom of the handicap with 115 and 116 pounds get an advantage – we have a lot of weight to give away.
“If he turns up in the same form as last time then he should be competitive. He has to win to go for those races (Four-Year-Old Classic Series) and he has to do it convincingly,” De Sousa said.
Formerly trained in Great Britain, Encountered – currently rated 81 – was a winner at Doncaster pre-import over 1405m by four lengths for trainer Marco Botti and tomorrow night he will shoulder 132lb.
“The owner really wants to run in the Hong Kong Classic Cup. We'll try, he keeps improving and when he came to Hong Kong he was a little bit immature. Now that he's a four-year-old, he's getting better and better,” Man said.
De Sousa has five rides at Happy Valley including Rewarding Together who contests the Class 1 Blue Pool Handicap (1200m) after finishing second to Sight Success in last month's Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m).
“It was a good run, he didn't have things go his way that day but he drops in grade and I hope he can be competitive. He's a consistent horse,” De Sousa said.
The Frankie Lor-trained gelding sits on a career-high mark of 103 and is a two-time winner from four starts this term. He breaks from gate six against 11 rivals.
The DBS x Manulife Million Challenge concludes tomorrow night at Happy Valley with both Encountered and Rewarding Together positioned on 30 points. Nearly Fine leads the competition on 53 and is looking to stave off the late challenges of Street Scream (45 points) and Excellent Peers (42). Either horse must win if they are to unseat Nearly Fine.
Earlier this morning, Russian Emperor stepped out in batch one at Sha Tin's barrier trial session ahead of his trip to Qatar for the Group 1 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2400m) at Al Rayyan on February 18 for Douglas Whyte.
“It was just a top off really. He leaves on Thursday (February 13) afternoon, so Hugh (Bowman) gave me some good feedback and the horse hit the line strongly. He was just there to have a blow out,” Whyte said.
The 2021/22 Hong Kong Champion Stayer clocked 58.91s for the 1000m turf barrier trial, crossing the line in seventh position with Hugh Bowman aboard.
“We know that Senor Toba is going – he won impressively and he'll be a force to be reckoned with but my horse is healthy. I'll send one of my work riders to let him get accustomed to the training facilities and I'll leave on Monday (February 13),” Whyte said.
Tourbillon Diamond limbered up under Alexis Badel on the turf over a mile later this morning, crossing the line in first position in 1m 39.30s for his trial as he readies for his Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) tilt on 26 February for Danny Shum.
“I am happy. I have kept him fresh and happy, everything's sound but he's against Romantic Warrior, so it's a bit hard – it's a big challenge for him,” Shum said.
Shum also trains Romantic Warrior, who last start finished second to Golden Sixty in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup (1600m) on 29 January.
“He's (Romantic Warrior) pulled up sound, he's good. The 2000 (metres) is more suitable for him and I think the field will be quite small, so that's good for him,” Shum said.
The Mary Slack-owned Wings Of War stepped out in batch 10 this morning under Karis Teetan for Tony Millard. The 78-rater crossed the line third in 1m 11.09s for 1200m on the dirt.
The Dark Angel gelding won the 2021 Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes (1200m) at Newbury pre-import and is yet to make his Hong Kong debut.