Legend storms Valley finale for a Rawiller treble

Caspar Fownes had earmarked Southern Legend (129lb) pre-race as a horse for the higher grades and the gelding lived up to his handler’s assertion with an impressive win in the Class 2 Yip Fat Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley on Sunday.

Southern Legend (near side) storms home to take the Class 2 Yip Fat Handicap (1200m) under Nash Rawiller, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

The five-year-old, Group 2-placed in Australia pre-import, stormed the home stretch from a deep position in the 12-runner finale, snatching success by a neck under a powerful Nash Rawiller drive. That effort gave the jockey a treble and Fownes a double at the city track’s only Sunday afternoon fixture this term.

“It’s nice to get a horse like this to win,” Fownes said. “He’s a horse that is just starting to put it all together, so I’m looking forward to getting him back to Sha Tin and getting his rating up – if we can get his rating to 110 in the next race or two, we’ll see how we go.”

Southern Legend’s record now reads two wins from five starts in Hong Kong. Last time out, the bay went down by a head when conceding 13lb to Pingwu Spark, a horse many watchers, including Fownes, rate highly.

“His last run was outstanding,” the trainer said. “He chased what I think is a serious horse in Pingwu Spark, giving him a bit of weight. It would be nice for him to draw a gate though – he’s got good gate speed and if he can sit there fourth or fifth, it would make his job a lot easier and we might see what sort of horse he really is. That was a big effort today for him to do that against some decent Happy Valley horses.”

Rawiller believes he already has a good handle on what sort of horse Southern Legend might become.

“He’s a really nice horse and I’d hope he can get a mile,” he said, after the 2.8 favourite had swept past Mr Genuine (123lb) to clock 1m 09.28s. “I thought if he could have won the other day he might have gone 1400 (metres) and then had a chance of getting in the Hong Kong Mile in December.

“He’s still probably learning a bit as he goes along. What he’s done so far has been on raw ability and he’s just got to become rock hard – all the really good horses here have that, they know the ropes and they don’t have too many chinks in their armour. I have no doubt he can get to higher levels.”

Rawiller sealed a treble on the day, having teamed with the Fownes-trained Mega Heart to take race seven, the Class 3 Shum Wan Handicap (1000m). The Australian rider’s strong drive was also in evidence when the Richard Gibson-trained Victory Duke took the third contest, the Class 5 Nam Fung Handicap (1200m) at odds of 7.9.

“It makes a big difference to your confidence,” Rawiller said after taking his season’s tally to 13. “What makes it good is that I’ve done some hard yards here – I did have to more or less start at the bottom here but I’ve always been driven. I’m not going to rest on my laurels, I’m starting to make a few inroads and I’m starting to get good support from the crowd, I can hear them, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

The Golden Age, trained by Tony Cruz and ridden by Matthew Chadwick, opens his Hong Kong account in the Class 2 Wong Chuk Hang Handicap (1650m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

In the afternoon’s penultimate race, the Class 2 Wong Chuk Hang Handicap (1650m), Matthew Chadwick set well-judged fractions to make all on the Tony Cruz-trained The Golden Age (123lb). The winning time was 1m 40.27s.

A Group 3 winner at 1400m in France when named Kontrastat, the chestnut needed three starts last term just to find his feet in Hong Kong. The My Risk gelding looked at home around the Valley’s tight turns today though, scooting along with ears pricked for a half-length verdict over the fast-finishing top-weight, Sichuan Dar (129lb). The northern hemisphere three-year-old could be a contender for this season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series.

“He loved it,” Chadwick said. “I’d like to hope he can go on after this: he’s still young and he still has a bit to learn. He had a nice weight today – 123 pounds – but he’s only a small horse so it will be interesting to see how he handles a heavier weight.”

Zac Purton and Umberto Rispoli each struck doubles on the 10-race card.

Rispoli wore a broad grin after driving the Ricky Yiu-trained Sharpmind to a head success at odds of 8.1 in race four, the Class 4 Island Handicap (1200m). Purton was a lunging second atop the 1.6 favourite, Merrygowin. The Italian followed up in the next, the Class 4 Hong Kong Country Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m), when guiding the 11/1 shot Mr Kool to a length and a half success for trainers’ championship leader Frankie Lor.

Purton, meanwhile, closed to within one win of premiership leader Joao Moreira – currently serving a suspension – thanks to the Michael Freedman-trained Fortune Booth, the 3.8 favourite in race six, and even-money jolly Thunder Stomp in race eight, for trainer Me Tsui.

Fortune Booth’s score in the Class 3 Po Chong Wan Handicap (1200m) was Freedman’s first Happy Valley victory and took the handler’s first season tally to three from 20 starters, following a brace at Sha Tin on 24 September.

Sam Clipperton struck early on the card when Sacred Ibis surged from deep to score by half a length at start two in race two, a Class 4 over 1200m. The afternoon’s Class 5 opener was over the Valley’s maximum distance of 2200m. Keith Yeung partnered the Almond Lee-trained Telephatia to a third course and distance win at odds of 5.8.

Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin on Wednesday evening.

Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli partners Sharpmind (No.11), the first of his two wins at Happy Valley today, in the Class 4 Island Handicap (1200m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club