Million target as Fantastic Eight sparks Rispoli double

Fantastic Eight entered the reckoning for this season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge with an emphatic win in the Class 3 American Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley Wednesday night.

The four-year-old headed downtown for his first start at the city venue with a record of two wins and five seconds from seven career starts at Sha Tin.

Tonight’s victory put Fantastic Eight on the scoreboard in this season’s HK$1 million contest for horses competing in Class 3 and above at the Valley. The competition, which began on 6 September, concludes on 21 February, 2018, and offers a first prize of HK$650,000 to the owner of the horse that accumulates the most points from first four placings.

“For sure, the Million Challenge is something to aim for now,” said trainer Ricky Yiu after the Duporth gelding’s three-length win, in a quick time of 1m 09.56s, earned 15 points.

“He’s a very honest horse, he has a good mindset and he loves getting on that rail. It was a very fast time for a first run here.”

Fantastic Eight wins impressively under Umberto Rispoli in the American Club Challenge Cup Handicap, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Umberto Rispoli rifled the 2/1 favourite to the lead from gate 11 and was never headed. After slinging off the fence at the turn into the straight, the gelding sprinted to the winning post through a closing split of 22.96s, in spite of his distinctive running action.

“From on top you feel him moving around underneath,” Rispoli said. “There’s not any horse that gallops like he does, but he goes, and he wins. The front goes one way and the back goes the other way! It works though and it works well.

“He’s fast,” he continued. “Probably with a better draw we wouldn’t have spent so much energy to lead, but with that barrier, carrying 132 (pounds), now we can see how good he might be. He came in with good from, he was beaten at Sha Tin by Marvel Tribe and that horse just beat two of the best young horses we have here, Fifty Fifty and Pingwu Spark.

“Ricky’s done a nice job with the horse. He was right to bring him to Happy Valley because the short straight helped him a lot.”

Rispoli completed a quick double in the next, race six. That represented a welcome contrast to the sixth contest at this fixture 12 months ago when the Italian was bounced off the turf in a fall that left him with a broken leg and a couple of months on the sidelines.

This time, Rispoli enjoyed a smooth run atop the John Size-trained Bank On Red to prevail by a half-length in the Class 3 High Island Handicap (1650m). The former Italian champion jockey was a replacement for the sidelined Joao Moreira tonight. The in-form Zac Purton, a close second in the title race, was also out of action, serving a suspension.

“He was my horse but Joao was first choice tonight so it was nice that John put me back on,” Rispoli said after the 8/1 shot had broken his Hong Kong maiden. “He needed a couple of races to bring him up to this level. He’s green and can still improve a little.”

Bank On Red’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge tally increased to 19 points.

Umberto Rispoli aboard Bank On Red completes a double in race six, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club