David Hayes hopes a gear change enables Nervous Witness to bring his trial form to race day and end his 11-month wait for his fifth competitive victory.
Nervous Witness is one of two Hayes-trained runners in Sunday’s Class One Devon Handicap (1,200m) at Sha Tin, with the Australian Racing Hall of Fame member adding a hood to his sprinter’s equipment, which regularly features a crossed nose band.
“We’ve decided to put the earmuffs on him,” Hayes said of Nervous Witness, who won four of his first seven starts – all over 1,000m – before he embarked on his losing run of five races over various trips.
“His weakness is he gets too aggressive, and in the upper-class races, if you’re pulling, you don’t win. We hope that just takes that 10 per cent off him and relaxes him a bit. Every trial he’s ever done in Hong Kong has been in earmuffs, so I know he performs very well in them.”
Nervous Witness has placed only once in his three outings over 1,200m – he was second to Cordyceps Six in last season’s Group Three Sha Tin Vase – but Hayes thinks six furlongs is not beyond him.
“There’s no reason he won’t run the 1,200m. It’s just how easy he gets it through the first 600m from barrier eight. That’s the question,” Hayes said of Lyle Hewitson’s conveyance from the outside gate.
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Lucky With You is Hayes’ other representative in the Devon Handicap, with Karis Teetan partnering the course-and-distance specialist from barrier four.
“He’s probably got to run a [personal best] to beat these, but his trackwork suggests he might be ready to do that,” said Hayes of Lucky With You, whom he has freshened up since his last-start 13th in the Group Three Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1,000m) on January 8.
Beluga headlines Sunday’s other Class One contest, the Norfolk Handicap (1,650m) on the all-weather track, with the David Hall-prepared miler racing on dirt for the first time in his 26-start career.
Even after allowing for Matthew Poon Ming-fai’s two-pound claim, Beluga carries 133 pounds this weekend, which is 20 pounds more than he lugged to win a Class One event over 1,400m two weeks ago.
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