Vincent Ho stole the show at Sha Tin (Saturday, 13 October) with a thrilling four timer while champion jockey Zac Purton had to settle for just one winner and a string of strongly fancied chances who failed to come up to scratch.
The ultra-consistent Victory Boys ensured Purton didn’t go home winless with a stylish reappearance success in the Class 2 Tsuen Fu Handicap, but local talent Ho outshone him with four dynamic wins which took him to eleven winners for the season and cemented his position as clear third in the jockeys’ table.
Ho set the ball rolling with a dramatic last-to-first surge aboard Francis Lui’s Glittering Armour in Race 3 and doubled up for the same handler in Race 5 when Fortunate Runner forged clear in the Chinese General Chamber Of Commerce Cup.
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The popular 28-year-old gave Me Tsui’s Go Public a superb ride to bring up his treble in the Class 3 Yan Chai Trophy Handicap, gradually building momentum with a combination of force and finesse to lead in the final strides, while even better was to follow when stablemate Ugly Warrior took his career record to five wins from six AWT runs with a commanding success in the Tsuen Lok Handicap.
Tsui described the winning rider as “on fire” as he sealed the first fourfold of his career, while Ho feels a combination of hard work and a summer trip to the UK based with leading Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston are yielding their rewards this term.
“I try to work hard in every aspect of my job 24 hours a day in relation to diet, training, recovery and physio and I’m so pleased that the support and results have come my way so far this season,” he said.
“Ryan Moore gave me good advice about riding in the UK and Mr Johnston always stressed that it is important for jockeys to use their instinct to judge what pace suits a horse.
He added: “I’m sure that I’ve come back to Hong Kong with more confidence this season and I now have to keep the hard work going to make the most of this great start.”
Ho has long held Ugly Warrior in high regard and mentioned him as one who could even graduate to dirt races at the Dubai Carnival last season.
Tsui says he “will let the horse tell us whether he is ready for that” but paid tribute to the way Ho checked inside to avoid a punishing battle for the lead and is eyeing a similar AWT contest for Ugly Warrior in early December next.
Ho would have gone very close to making it five wins from just six rides but for traffic problems aboard fourth-placed Noble Steed in Race 10.
Invincible Fresh took full advantage of the trouble in behind and survived a lengthy inquiry and an objection from connections of runner-up Lady First to give Karis Teetan a treble which leaves him just one behind Purton at the top of the jockeys’ table.
O’Sullivan breaks his duck and looks to Conghua for future success
Paul O’Sullivan was all smiles after becoming the last of Hong Kong’s 22 trainers to get off the mark for the season when Willie Way landed Race 2 to give Teetan his second winner of the day and promptly hinted at a change in policy designed to leave the blocks more quickly in future.
We retired a lot of horses last season, including good servants like Archippus, and I knew we’d start slowly this year,” he said.
“But having Conghua to prepare horses is going to be absolutely outstanding,” he added. “A facility like that gives you the opportunity to finish a horse in May then trial him in the summer and come down here ready to roll when the season starts.”
Tony Millard continued his flying start to the season and notched his tenth success from just 52 starters in Race 1 when Strathallan (121lb) saluted at the fourth attempt, showing speed throughout and battling on well for Teetan to beat promising newcomer Hainan Star (120lb) by a neck.
Millard felt Strathallan’s previous experience proved crucial and, with Nassa, Singapore Sling and South African G1 winner Northern Superstar (formerly Edict Of Nantes) waiting in the wings, he kept things short and sweet when asked about his wealth of emerging talent.
“Strathallan is a nice horse who can improve over 1200m,’ he said. “And this is the best string of young horses I’ve ever had.”
Recent Sha Tin scorer Super Star is one of those horses and Happy Tour – another son of Snitzel sourced at the HKIS in March – looked promising when making all for Danny Shum and Chad Schofield in Race 6.
Shum said: “His first run was good and he’s improved so we will stick to 1200m at Sha Tin for now.”
The Hong Kong season continues on Thursday, 18 October with an eight-race card at Happy Valley.
Karis Teetan topped the win count at Sha Tin Racecourse this afternoon, Sunday, 7 October, with a fine five-timer that included not only Pakistan Friend’s short-priced score in the Chinese Recreation Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1600m) but also a victory snagged in the stewards’ room.
The Cup success was achieved with new ally Tony Cruz but two of the Mauritian’s tally – including the stewards’ intervention – came in tandem with long-time supporter Tony Millard, who continued his fine start to the campaign with a treble.
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“These days don’t always happen but I had a good book of rides today,” Teetan said after the Frankie Lor-trained Morethanlucky sealed the quintet in the afternoon’s final race, the Class 2 Yew Handicap (1400m).
Teetan ended the day with 11 wins for the term, three behind champion Australian jockey Zac Purton, but played down talk of a title challenge.
“It’s still very early in the season; Zac is pretty good and it’s difficult to go past him,” he said. “I don’t want to say too much and get a big head but Joao (Moreira) is not here now so there are a few opportunities out there. I’m not going to think that big at this stage.”
This Pakistan’s no star yet
Teetan delivered an upbeat report about Pakistan Friend’s development after the four-year-old landed the Class 4 trophy race by three-quarters of length – the Australian-bred gelding’s second success from only four starts.
“The first time I rode him he gave me a really good feel,” Teetan said. “I knew that he could only improve mentally and he was a different horse today – he was still not focused 100 percent but he should take another step forward again. He feels like a really genuine horse.
“I believe he’ll be decent, maybe a long-distance horse. The feeling he gave me, I think he can still improve and if he can do that he can go a bit higher.”
Cruz, meanwhile, is taking the view that Pakistan Friend will likely stall on his progression some way shy of the elite grades.
The gelding might sport the Kerm Din silks made famous by the exploits of his illustrious stablemate Pakistan Star, but a star he is not – according to his handler. That assessment was delivered despite the gelding having drawn too obvious comparisons with the G1 winner after he rushed to a deep-closing win on debut late last term.
“He might make it up to Class 2 and he should go over farther in time, but for now I’ll keep him to this course and distance and see what he can do,” Cruz said after the Hong Kong International Sale graduate had stopped the clock at 1m 34.55s.
“It was a smaller field (11 runners), he got a good position behind the leader and I was always sure he would kick home against this opposition,” he said, adding, “He’s improving though, everything he does coming out of the gate is better and he’ll come on for this.”
The handler enjoyed a double when King Genki nicked race nine – his third win over 1650m on the all-weather track – under 10lb claimer Victor Wong.
Teetan kicked off his winning run in race four, eking just enough from the Caspar Fownes-trained Chaparral Star (131lb) to hold off the late run of Sports Master (130lb).
A brace followed for the Teetan/Millard alliance. The latter success took the form of a centre-track drive atop the newcomer Super Star, another local sale graduate; the first was claimed in the stewards’ room after High Five (128lb) was promoted to the top spot upon the demotion of the Derek Leung-ridden Endearing (119lb) for interference caused in the closing stages.
Freedman denied a double
Endearing’s demotion denied trainer Michael Freedman a double on the day and was the second such turnaround. Diamond Friends was awarded race two in the steward’s room after suffering interference caused by first-past-the-post Let Us Win – Umberto Rispoli and trainer Jimmy Ting were the beneficiaries that time.
Freedman, meanwhile, had already enjoyed the high of My Beginner’s Luck’s triumph in race three. Matthew Poon steered the stable’s third winner of the campaign.
“Matthew’s five-pound claim is a big advantage, especially on the on-pace horses,” Freedman said. “It was a similar scenario to when he won on Sparkling Dragon for me at Happy Valley last month. This horse gets a bit worked up beforehand and I was a bit concerned watching him go out but he has got natural speed and we were hoping he could get out and get an uncontested lead like that.”
Murray hits the mark
Callan Murray was rewarded for a patient outlook as he took the opener and snared a first win for the campaign. The young South African’s relief was expressed with a loud whoop as he passed the winning post aboard Top Ace, his 24th mount this season and the first leg of the Millard treble.
“It’s just a relief. Every winner is nice but my last winner was actually in June, since before my hip surgery, so it’s been frustrating and this will give me the confidence I needed,” Murray said.
This afternoon’s success on the Millard-trained galloper was the rider’s first in Hong Kong since he returned to his homeland in July 2017 following a late-season four-win stint.
Murray, 20, landed back in Hong Kong in August with a view to securing a long-term contract in Hong Kong. But his early season hopes took a knock when he picked up a two-meeting suspension in September.
“The suspension was the most frustrating but these things happen, I was patient enough and I think it’s made me a better person,” he said.
Premiership leader Purton took race five on the Lor-trained Witness Hunter.
Hong Kong racing will continue at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 10 October.
Zac Purton started as he meant to go on at Sha Tin Racecourse today, Sunday, 25 March, displaying aggression, poise and rhythmic strength to win the Class 5 opener. He followed that with a barnstorming late-card four-timer to earn five on the day, and with it, impetus in his long, understated challenge for this season’s champion jockey title.
The haul matched the Australian’s five-win return at the track on 13 May last year.
“It’s not a bad day,” Purton said, with an almost-grin and feigned indifference, after his fifth victory on the aptly-named Simply Brilliant (122lb).
That score came in the Class 2 Sapphire Handicap (1600m) and was achieved at the expense of his prime rival, champion jockey Joao Moreira. Purton’s mount responded to every urging in the closing exchange, the son of Frankel edging out the Moreira-ridden Easy Go Easy Win (125lb) by a neck.
“He’s been a difficult horse, hanging in his races and doing things wrong, and he was still quite keen for the first five or six hundred metres today,” Purton said of Simply Brilliant. “Once he relaxed he got into a nice rhythm and I really like the way he fought, he just kept sticking his head out to the line.
“He’s bred to get a bit further but he doesn’t have the brain for it at the moment. He’s a lightly-framed horse and I think maybe next season he could furnish and step up a little bit more.”
The British import, sixth in the Britannia Handicap (1600m) at Royal Ascot last term, gave trainer Frankie Lor a second win for the afternoon. The handler provided Moreira with a win, too, aboard Right Call in race three; Lor, like most, is a big fan of both riders.
“Some owners like to have great jockeys riding their horses, so I try to get Zac and Joao whenever I can, I like using them both but it’s not easy to get them,” he said.
With 30 race meetings remaining in Hong Kong’s 88-card campaign, Purton knows that there is a long road still ahead in his tussle with premiership leader and thrice-reigning champion Moreira, the man who usurped him as champion in 2015.
With the Brazilian ace kicking home two winners today, Purton drew to within six of the premiership leader. But Lor pointed out one factor that makes Purton’s title attempt a tough challenge.
“Zac cannot ride light,” he said. Moreira, though, can,” he said.
Purton kicked off today’s action aboard the Manfred Man-trained Ever Strong, winning at odds of 11/1. That came on the dirt track and the rider went on to take all three races on the inner circuit; the Michael Freedman-trained Elite Boy, the 2.3 favourite, charged six lengths clear to win the 1200m Class 4; and Purton measured to perfection Perpetual Treasure’s (3.6) front-running neck win for trainer Benno Yung in the Class 3 over the same trip.
Purton made it four in tandem with the impressive Baltic Whisper. Danny Shum’s charge blazed the 1000m straight in 56.22s to win at odds of 4.3.
Moreira completed his double atop the Peter Ho-trained Audacity, the 3.2 favourite in the Class 4 Emerald Handicap (2000m). The champ was foiled in the last when the inexperienced Raging Storm, sent off the 1.5 favourite, did plenty wrong and finished only seventh behind Regency Bo Bo. Apprentice Matthew Poon steered the Tony Cruz-trained 9.9 chance to victory.
Moore and Berry take the 18 Districts Cup
Agree (126lb) won the afternoon’s trophy race, the Class 3 18 Districts Cup (1600m) at odds of 9.1.
Tommy Berry made the running on the John Moore-trained galloper and revealed afterwards that the five-year-old’s scaredy-cat nature probably helped him out in the run to the wire.
“He’s scared of other horses, scared of pretty much everything, so when he hears the other horses coming behind him, he really fights on,” the rider said.
The Zebedee gelding did just that when Berry kicked on at the top of the home stretch, boxing to a length and three-quarter score from Green Energy (133lb), the mount of Nash Rawiller.
“We found that if he’s in front or outside of horses he seems to race to his best. He’s the sort of horse that if you get your own way in races like that he’s very hard to run down,” Berry said.
Agree now has three wins this term, all under Berry and all achieved since the turn of the year. The stable’s retained rider took his season’s tally to 13, seven of those achieved aboard Moore-trained horses.
“We had no real expectations with this horse and he’s gone and won three, so from that point of view it’s another bonus,” Moore said. “And he can win again if he gets the races panning out like that. He doesn’t like being between horses too much, but today he got in front and he kicked like a horse that isn’t done with winning yet.
“He was just well-placed and everything mapped out well, speed-wise. He got a soft enough lead and it turned out well, with the programme and the way the race mapped out, to be able to do what he did.”
Millard’s unearthed a Treasure
Refined Treasure is proving to be something of a bargain. In sluicing to a three-and a half-length victory in the Class 4 Amethyst Handicap (1000m) this afternoon under Chad Schofield, the Tony Millard-trained gelding confirmed his status as an exciting young prospect.
“I think he can be something really special if we just play it properly. He ran a very fast time here today, although the track has been quite quick lately,” Millard said after the three-year-old had clocked 56.51s for the straight 1000m, under a 133lb impost.
The Australian-bred cost only AUS$60,000 out of the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in 2016 and has already won prize money of HK$1,003,200.
“I bought this horse for the owners and we didn’t expect him to be this good,” Millard said. “We’ve been very careful with him and we’ve been placing him nicely. He’s winning, so we’ll keep to 1000 metres for now.”
Refined Treasure is by Lope De Vega out of the Volksraad mare Spyglass Hill, and that cross that attracted Millard.
“He’s got a lot of things going for him, he’s got a beautiful pedigree, he’s the classic cross – the same as Able Friend (by Shamardal), being out of a Volksraad mare, and that’s one of the reasons I bought him,” he said.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 28 March.