Shum and Cruz looking to show the way on day one at Sha Tin again
The 2018-19 Hong Kong racing season kicks off on Sunday at Sha Tin with all the questions still to be answered on the track but punters are looking for the same answer to the age old question - how do I back a winner?
One angle early in the season is playing the trainers whose style is to get them up and running early.
In our blog this time last year, we explained that "up and running early" can vary depending on how you frame the question, but the simplest way to look at it is "who fires on the first day?"
Collectively, the current trainer roster has won 88 of the 100 races on opening day over the last 10 years, and that isn't really all that helpful - Paul O'Sullivan and last year's freshman trainer, Michael Freedman, are the only two active handlers not to have won a race on the first day of the season in that time, so that's still a wide spread.
But if we cut that back to the main players, we find that just seven trainers have won more than half of that tally of 88 (an especially lucky number too in Hong Kong, by the way.)
In 2003, when Caspar Fownes and Danny Shum were starting off and each trained a winner on their first day, the dominant early season trainers were John Moore and Tony Cruz.
But in the past decade, it has been Shum who has pushed his way to the top of that particular leaderboard.
In fact, since that first winner on his first opening day, Shum has failed to train a winner only in 3 times in 14 attempts, with a total of 19 wins on the first day of the season.
In the last 10 years, Shum leads the tally with 12 wins, ahead of Cruz with 10 victories and there is every reason to believe that both men will play a serious role again on Sunday, and helping them out is the fact that neither champion trainer John Size nor a regular first day winner, David Hall, will saddle up a runner.
And being a trainer of the early winners tends to be self-reinforcing.
Both Cruz and Shum have plenty of luck getting their horses ready for day one and so they do make a point of getting them ready early - on Sunday, Cruz has more likely runners than any other trainer with 12 entries and Shum has 11, so they have numbers on their side already. Tony Millard also has a tidy group of 9 in the entries and he has been very prominent at the barrier trials pre-season.
Last year, Shum's first day double included the feature, the HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup, with Seasons Bloom (below) but he won't be winning it this year as he doesn't have a starter and Joao Moreira, who rode Seasons Bloom as he swept the first five races of the season, is no longer here.
The new dominator in the saddle, Zac Purton has opted for Tony Cruz-trained Winner's Way in the feature, which looks a serious pointer from a yard that gets them "up and running" although Cruz is still looking for his first win in what must be about the only trophy race on the calendar to elude him.
The record crowd for opening day is 72,000 and perhaps the weather will play a role in how close the Jockey Club tally through the gates will get to that but betting turnover is always strong, with punters starved of a bet since July and the club will be hoping to top the 2017 record figure of $HK 1.294 billion.