It was a return to business as usual for Neil Callan at Happy Valley on Wednesday night as the Irish jockey scored his first brace for the term.
Callan has been a top-five mainstay in the jockeys’ championship in recent years and admits it has been a slow start to the season by his standards. The rider, who only had three rides on Wednesday night, now sits mid-table on seven wins after his race-to-race double aboard Keep Moving and Top Laurels.
“I’m happy to be getting going now,” Callan said. “The first few weeks of the season, it’s just been a bit slow but the pattern of the meetings has been a bit different early – there have been small fields and it has been harder to get rides. It’s returning to normal, though, and hopefully it is onwards and upwards for us now.”
Neil Callan celebrates after winning the night’s feature, the Class 3 Japan Racing Association Trophy Handicap, aboard Top Laurels, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Top Laurels (124lb) won the night’s feature, the Class 3 Japan Racing Association Trophy Handicap (1650m), in a driving finish. Bounced out by Callan, the rider eased the War Chant five-year-old to settle fourth one-off as leader Dr Win Win (129lb) set very slow fractions out in front.
“It was a matter of whether he would settle in the run,” Callan said. “In recent starts, I have been trying to teach him how to race properly because he just seemed to carry his head a bit high with his mouth open. He still did that tonight, although he was better when I got him onto the back straight.”
In the straight, Top Laurels sprinted strongly when pulled to the centre of the track, producing enough to hold fast-finishing Super Form (119lb) by a neck.
“He’s done all his racing at Sha Tin but for the last few runs, I’ve been thinking I’d love to get him across to Happy Valley,” he said. “He’s been running well in most of his races but I thought the track was a little bit firm for him at Sha Tin. I always thought the more genuine tempo at Happy Valley would suit him better too. He’s a talented horse, his trials were enormous, and hopefully there’s more in store for him. ”
Keep Moving (126lb) was sent out a 2.1 favourite for the sixth, the Class 3 Nakayama Handicap (1000m), on the back of a narrow course and distance victory fresh in October. Beginning sharply, the four-year-old was on the speed throughout, holding off the late charge of John Size’s Money Boy (118lb) to win by a neck.
“He’s a nice horse, this, but he’s so naturally fast that I didn’t want to pull him in behind,” Callan said. “He was travelling so strongly on the bridle that I just let him do everything on his own, even when he was challenged on the turn. When I got into the straight, I tried to hold onto him as long as possible as I thought the swoopers would be coming and for him to hold on, it was an incredible effort.
“The last 50m or so, I thought he was looking around a little bit more than normal so I think, when he has a race where he has something to run at, he’ll be even better. I think he’s got more improvement in him yet.”
Keep Moving dashes clear under a vigorous Neil Callan ride to win the Class 3 Nakayama Handicap (1000m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club