Tony Millard is still dreaming big with Elusive State after the five-year-old made it four consecutive wins for his new handler in the featured Leighton Handicap over 1650m at Sha Tin on Saturday.
Elusive State lands the Leighton Handicap in style
The South African has entered Hong Kong’s most improved AWT horse in two races on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan on 30 March – namely the Group 2 Godolphin Mile (1600m) and the Group 1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) - but is running out of opportunities to increase Elusive State’s rating to the requisite level.
“It’s one thing winning in Class 2 and another thing winning the Godolphin Mile or the World Cup but what we see here is a little bit special,” said the winning handler.
“He’s a late developer and a big animal. He’s the real deal.”
High praise indeed from Millard, but Elusive State (115lb) earned the plaudits in one of the hottest AWT handicaps of the season.
Forced to race wide under restraint from Silvestre de Sousa having been drawn ten, Elusive State covered more ground than his main rivals but moved up steadily on the final bend.
Raging Blitzkrieg (115lb) and Circuit Glory (116lb) did their best to kick for home early in the straight, but Elusive State was in full cry by this stage and a storming late run saw him beat that pair with authority.
Elusive State has now won his last five races, improving from a rating of 51 to 80 prior to today’s HK$1.95m contest.
A further rise for this success looks set to take him into the high 80’s, but Millard is aware that the gelding needs to prove himself yet again and is hoping another high-quality AWT contest is on the menu when Hong Kong’s racing calendar for March is finalized.
“He’s a very good horse and if he hadn’t run four wide the whole way he wins by twenty yards,” added Millard.
“He needs to earn more rating points, but if they do put on a race in March and he can win it then we’ll see.”
Brazilians in charge as de Sousa trebles up
De Sousa has been averaging better than two winners a week since his return to Hong Kong in early November and memories of a rare blank at Happy Valley in midweek were put firmly aside with two earlier winners aboard one horse who has come way down in the handicap and another who is climbing the ladder.
The Brazilian was seen at his strongest when John Moore’s Midnight Rattler broke a losing run of 24 stretching back to April 2017 in the Hoi Ping Handicap (1200m), while Right Choice responded to the fitting of blinkers to make it two wins from just three attempts in the Yun Ping Handicap (1400m).
Right Choice looks another bright prospect for Frankie Lor and his former boss John Size has an equally promising youngster on his hands in the shape of Tornado Twist.
The champion trainer’s fears that the three-year-old’s inexperience might result in a slow start proved well founded, but Tornado Twist produced a whirlwind finish in the Ventris Handicap (1200m) to score with plenty in hand in the manner of a horse who could go far this season.
Poon takes inside track as Dragon strikes again
It isn’t often that any rider gets the chance to creep up the inside of champion jockey Zac Purton at the crucial point in a race but Matthew Poon did exactly that when capturing the Hoi Ping Handicap aboard Speedy Dragon (117lb).
David Hall’s gelding had shown improved form to score on his previous start and progressed again in a thrilling finish, squeezing through on the inside rail to master Purton on promising newcomer Solar Wai Wai (124lb) by a head.
Hall played a major part in Poon’s development as an apprentice and has looked on with approval at his progress for a wide range of trainers this term.
“Matthew has been well received by all the trainers with a good cross section of rides and his confidence is getting better,” he said.
Speedy Dragon raced without the blinkers he had previously worn and Hall feels he is maturing in a manner to suggest there is more to come.
“Taking the blinkers off has made a big difference,” he added. “He was brave going up the inside today, so I think he’s got the idea now, and I don’t think he’s finished with yet.”
Lai off the cold list as Swiftness lands gamble
Eddy Lai is gradually inching his way towards a major milestone and now needs just three more winners to reach the 300-mark in Hong Kong after Hinyuen Swiftness (120lb) landed the Po Leung Kuk 140th Anniversary Cup (1400m).
The veteran rider made a strong start to this season – winning three races in the first ten fixtures including one on Hinyuen Swiftness - but came into this Class 4 contest on a losing run of 102.
However, that didn’t prevent the six-year-old being the subject of sustained support down to 7.8 and Dennis Yip’s gelding landed the gamble by going to the front and digging deep when the 1.8 favourite Chairman Lo (129lb) emerged as the final challenger.
Peter Ho was another in double form courtesy of Proud Sky in the Caroline Hill Handicap (1800m) and Dances With Dragon in the Sun Wui Handicap (1800m).
Joao Moreira has now won twice from three attempts on Proud Sky, while Douglas Whyte showed all his experience aboard Dances With Dragon (132lb), who avoided trouble in a rough race to hold Happy Sebring (121lb) by a length and a quarter.
Karis Teetan’s strong form continued when Tony Millard’s Otouto gave him his 40th success of the season in the opening Broadwood Handicap (1200m), while Jimmy Ting and Matthew Chadwick combined to land the Link Handicap (1650m) with Holy Unicorn.
Hong Kong racing continues on Wednesday 16 January with an eight-race card at Happy Valley.