Chang’s sweet sixteen

It was a nail-biting start to the day at Sha Tin on Sunday for trainer Michael Chang. The popular handler went into the 11-race card with 15 wins for the season, one short of the minimum required to avoid a first career strike. The Hong Kong Jockey Club operates a three-strikes-and-you’re-out system for trainers, with three failures to reach the minimum win or prize money (HK$18.5 million) benchmarks leading to a loss of licence. Chang had banked HK$16.89 million.

To the trainer’s obvious relief, and the delight of the Sha Tin faithful, Our Folks hit the board to nail the magic 16 just three races in.

Our Folks and Matthew Poon take the Big Profit Handicap to give trainer Michael Chang a vital 16th win for the season, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

“It was worrying – my heart was pounding – but I’m happy now. I thought I could win 1-2-3!” Chang said.

He almost did. The trainer, most famous for his fine handling of the G1-winning dirt track sprinter, Rich Tapestry, has hit a rough patch in recent seasons but went into the afternoon with three smart chances at the head of the card.

First up was 9/1 shot Starry Starlies (113lb) in the Class 5 Being Famous Handicap (1200m), but a big effort could not prevent his career figures going to zero from 20. The 17-rated gelding finished two short-heads third at the end of a grinding stretch run that flattered but failed as Alberto Sanna prevailed on Happy Fiery Dragon (130lb) for Derek Cruz.

Then came Je Pense (132lb), with the in-from Italian up top, in the Class 5 My Choice Handicap (1800m). Sanna got to work well before the home turn, driving the maiden wide for an agonising will-he-won’t-he run to the line. But Almond Lee’s Proud Sky (129lb) held the edge by a short-head at the wire under Keith Yeung, second to Sanna in the previous contest.

“Je Pense is lazy. Alberto said he threw everything at the horse, it was a good ride, but the horse just doesn’t put everything in,” Chang said.

Our Folks (127lb) broke the tension in the next, the Class 4 Big Profit Handicap (1200m). The 3.4 second-favourite obliged under gun apprentice Matthew Poon. That raised a trademark warm smile from Chang and prompted a flurry of handshakes and back slaps.

“This horse has been running quite well, and today he had a good draw and Matthew Poon, so I was quite confident he could win. He’s a very good apprentice,” Chang said of Poon, “he claims seven pounds but he’s not a boy, he’s already a little man!”

Poon ended his first Hong Kong season with 22 wins after taking the last, the Class 2 Hong Kong Racehorse Owners Association Trophy (1400m) on Solar Hei Hei for his boss, David Hall.

Dennis Yip and Douglas Whyte teamed up as The Full Bloom quickened through a rain storm to see off fellow grey Silverfield in the fourth, the Class 4 Joy And Fun Handicap (1400m), and Yip doubled up when Kei Chiong drove Generous Bobo to victory in the Class 4 Sight Winner Handicap (1400m).

Neil Callan, secure in third-place in the jockeys’ premiership, added a 47th win for the term when the Richard Gibson-trained King Of Mongolia won the Class 4 Miraculous Handicap (1800m). Zac Purton and Peter Ho combined to take the Class 3 Entrapment Handicap (1600m) with Green Energy.