It was a night of milestones all around for Hong Kong’s apprentices – in fact, for homegrown riders all around – with the newest addition to the ranks Matthew Poon riding his inaugural Happy Valley winner at his first meeting at the city track.
Poon brought Gracious Ryder (113lb), trained by the claimer’s master David Hall, to the centre of the track upon straightening and the Tickets gelding responded willingly to take the first section of the Class 4 Lyndhurst Handicap (1200m) by a nose.
“A first-time rider, the first time the horse has ever seen the lights of Happy Valley and it looked like they had both been around here 100 times,” Hall said. “Happy Valley is a tricky circuit. For Matthew, he’d had a couple of sets of trials but there is nothing like coming here in front of the crowd against (Joao) Moreira and company, it is very tough.
“He does have his head on his shoulders, he’s taking it all in his stride and it was great to see him get a winner tonight. And it was good to see Dylan ride a couple of winners earlier, it puts a bit of competition amongst the boys for the end of the season heading into next term.”
Comeback jockey Eddy Lai rode his first winner since October 2015 when scoring a shock 29/1 victory on Chris So-trained Racing Mate (114lb) in the Class 3 On Lan Handicap (1000m). The 43-year-old had spent much of the last two seasons on the sidelines with a knee injury, but he returned to the riding roster in April.
“It was great to give him a winner,” So said. “The horse was outpaced early, I didn’t think he’d get there but they went so fast that he was just able to win.”
It was another local rider to the fore in the night’s sole Class 2 with Alvin Ng scoring just his third winner of the season in the Wyndham Handicap (1800m) on Tony Cruz’s Time Warp (109lb).
Time Warp led through brisk sectionals but with only 109 pounds on his back, he was able to scoot clear to win by two and a half lengths in a course record time of 1m 47.61s. The new record is 0.44s quicker than the previous high mark set by Marvel Hero earlier in the term.
“He’s taken time to come right, but maybe now he’s switched on,” Cruz said. “We are still figuring him out, but he’s a nice horse for next season.”
It was a night of fast times overall, coming after 275 millimetres of rain fell at Happy Valley in the 48 hours before the first race.
The opener, the second section of the Class 4 D’Aguilar Handicap (1650m), was won by Caspar Fownes-trained Clever Spirit (116lb) in 1m 39.05s, the fastest Happy Valley 1650m race of the season to date; however, that time was bettered by Jade Fortune (123lb) in the Sports Club Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup Handicap. Manfred Man’s galloper showed a deft turn of foot along the rail to break his Hong Kong maiden under Zac Purton, stopping the clock at 1m 38.92s.
Man made it a “Jade” double in the closer after Jade Theatre (120lb) took the Class 3 Staunton Handicap (1200m) with Umberto Rispoli in the saddle.
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday, with the first race on the 10-event card scheduled to jump at 1pm.