Banner flies in Kwangtung Handicap Cup

Jolly Banner wore his heart on his hooves and outpointed the game Winner’s Way in the Class 1 Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.

“Jolly Banner’s a dream ride, he just tries so hard: all he wants to do is win,” jockey Chad Schofield said after his mount had stopped the clock at 1m 21.15s.

That indefatigable will was evident in the closing stages. When Winner’s Way (128lb), the 2.3 race favourite, brushed aside the front-running Magic Legend (126lb) at the top of the stretch, Jolly Banner loomed as the prime threat – closing in a wide alley, bearing down with purpose to join Zac Purton’s mount at the 200m mark.

“When I drew alongside Winner’s Way, I was very confident because he pinned his ears back and I knew he would have a real dip,” Schofield continued.

The fresh-faced hoop punched the Ricky Yiu-trained gelding to the fore approaching the final half-furlong. And, with Winner’s Way tiring under an impost 9lb heavier than his rival, Jolly Banner forged on for a three-quarter-length win at odds of 5.3. Top-weight Horse Of Fortune (133lb) closed for third, a half-length behind Winner’s Way.

“The plan today was to ride Jolly Banner a touch more patiently,” Schofield revealed, having berthed the son of Lonhro mid-pack in the eight-runner field, one spot off the fence. “He had a nice weight, and on the C course we thought the plan would give him a bit of a chance early and allow him to finish off, and he did.”

Jolly Banner (No.6) gets the better of Winner’s Way (No.3) to take the Class 1 Kwangtung Handicap Cup, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Schofield believes the consistent six-year-old could still enhance his Hong Kong record, which now reads five wins from 16 starts – and perhaps in pattern grade, too.

“He thrives when he’s fresh and he was pretty much on song today – he felt spot-on,” the rider said. “If Ricky can keep him fresh, there’s no reason why he can’t go into a Group race (handicap) with a light weight and be competitive.”

And Schofield, with two wins now on the board for this campaign, was delighted to bag a prominent feature so early in the term.

“In Hong Kong, even the Class 5s are hard to win, so to win a feature, a Class 1, is very satisfying,” he said. “And especially with this horse: he has a lovely bunch of owners and I’ve had a lot of success on him so long may it continue.”

Pingwu Spark notches his first win in Hong Kong in the Class 3 Chaozhou Handicap, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Pingwu Spark (128lb) fulfilled the promise of a recent barrier trial to land the Class 3 Chaozhou Handicap (1200m) under a delighted Derek Leung. The grinning rider gave a fist pump for the cameras upon returning to the winner’s circle, after the strapping grey – returned the 2.2 favourite – had broken his Hong Kong maiden at start two.

“He did it all exactly as I wanted him to,” Leung said. “It took him a little while to pick-up and quicken, so I think it may be time to step up to 1400 metres. But he showed again that he’s a very honest horse with a big stride. I like him!”

The Mastercraftsman five-year-old, one from two in New Zealand pre-import, stalked the lead and then stretched his ample frame down the Sha Tin straight to overhaul runner-up Mythical Emperor (122lb). Once in front, Benno Yung’s charge eased to a two-length verdict.