The Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge enjoyed a smooth lift off at Happy Valley’s first fixture of the season on Wednesday night and it was 31/1 longshot Brave Legend that snared the series’ first win points in the Community Chest Cup Handicap (1200m).
Matthew Chadwick was the man in the plate, driving the Benno Yung-trained four-year-old wide down the home run for a rattling two and a quarter-length victory in the Class 3 trophy race, and collecting 15 points in the series. It was the former champion apprentice’s first win since 26 April.
Matthew Chadwick guides Brave Legend to victory in the first race of this season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
“It’s been rough with injuries, the last three seasons have been rough: I think if you add up all my injuries in that time it might even add up to a full season,” Chadwick surmised.
The most recent setback, a right-foot stress fracture, had kept him out of action from late April until his return to the fray in Singapore recently. That short summer stint helped brush away any rustiness.
“It’s great to get one early,” he said after sealing the season’s 16th contest. “It’s especially nice to get one for Benno, he’s supported me a bit with rides here and there and I’ve been trying to get in there and work a bit harder with him at the stables.”
The win was Brave Legend’s first at start three in Hong Kong, the promising Choisir gelding having notched a brace in New Zealand pre-import.
“He did it nicely in the end,” Chadwick said after the bay had stopped the clock at 1m 10.26s. “He was very green; I hoped he would jump a bit sharper than he did, he just didn’t travel too well early on. He swung a bit wider than I wanted on the home turn but I let him be and he was happy enough. Today he’s won on ability, so we’ll see how he goes on. I’d hope he’s got more improvement.”
A crowd of 20,620 packed the vibrant racecourse, a 13-year high for a first meeting of the season at Happy Valley. And, with the start of the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge adding an element of excitement to the evening’s atmosphere, the meeting’s turnover reached a new high of HK$1.103 billion.
The Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge rewards points to the first four finishers in all races of Class 3 standard and higher at the city track and runs until 21 February. The owner of the horse with the highest points at the end of the series wins the lion’s share of a HK$1 million pot.