History was made in China on Saturday when the Richard Gibson trained Nordic Warrior (IRE) under Matthew Chadwick won the inaugural race at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s (HKJC) Conghua Racecourse in the first of five races at the Exhibition Raceday.
The Exhibition Raceday, held in conjunction with the Conghua District Government, was the first time that competitive racing had taken place in Mainland China with Hong Kong horses.
Training for Hong Kong owned horses has been under way at Conghua since August, 2018. The 150 hectare facility with the capacity for 660 horses in 11 stable blocks is situated 200 kilometres inland from Hong Kong and Saturday was the first day of racing, albeit without wagering in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
It was fitting that Chadwick won the first race as he is a product of the Hong Kong Apprentice system and Conghua is also very much about training Mainland residents in all aspects of the equine industry.
The HK2m, Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy (1200m) was for runners sold through the HKJC International Sale who had not won a Group race and Gibson said that the moment the race was announced he had aimed Nordic Warrior at the race.
Chadwick settled Nordic Warrior back in the six horse field and waited patiently as Happy Tour and Chad Schofield lead the field to the straight. He eased Nordic Warrior out for clear running and after Gallant Return under Zac Purton took over at the 250m he then made his challenge.
The four-year-old Dutch Art gelding responded well and with 100m to run they were away to the line for a victory that gave the excited connections much joy.
Smart Charade (IRE) (Fastnet Rock) and Alberto Sanna were second with Happy Tour (AUS) (Snitzel) and Schofield third.
The margins were 1 1/4L. and 2 1/4L with the time 1.09.28.
Matthew Chadwick on Noble Warrior signals the first victory at Conghua, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
“An absolute buzz and a big career moment to win the first race here at Conghau. Matthew gave the horse a wonderful ride and we are delighted,” said Gibson.
“We expected the pace to be very strong and we knew our horse was a good finisher and Matthew gave him a cool ride.
“I did say when I got the job in Hong Kong that I wanted to be the first trainer to win at Conghua, I said it in quite a loud voice. I am looking forward to training here, our horses are doing great here and it is great to be part of history today and in front of Mrs Carrie Lam it is an extra privilege as well.
“I would like to make an extra comment. Sometimes I do not think the owners get the recognition they deserve and Mr Yue is one of the long standing respected owners in Hong Kong.
“It is a wonderful special tribute to him to come up here in his eighty’s to see his colours perform. He was terribly excited before the race and it is a huge moment for him as well and it is great credit to him.
“He has been a wonderful owner in Hong Kong,” he said.
Nordic Warrior, while not racing directly for Mr Yue, races in Mr Yue's family colours of blue and white checks.
“It could not have gone better, it was a text book ride and he took it on the day,” said Chadwick.
“It is the first time up here with a meeting like this so it has to be positive. We are very happy to be part of it.”
Chadwick described the track as ‘beautiful’.”
“That bit of rain (earlier in the day) probably helped a little bit more. A few of us walked the track before and it had a great cushion of grass and it was getting a bit firm underneath, the rain has just made it nice. It is beautiful,” he said.
Nordic Warrior is out of the Key Of Luck mare Girl Power and this was his second win from nine starts.
Later in the programme the Conghua Racecourse was described by trainer Paul O’Sullivan as ‘world class’.
“It is starting to turn a few horses form around now too, it just could not be any better,” he said.
“It is just that much quieter here, they do not see a car. The one’s in Hong Kong could be police horses in a week they are that used to bangs and sound. But this is a fantastic facility,” he added.
Hong Kong’s leading rider Zac Purton franked O’Sullivan’s opinion.
“It is obviously a great track, the surface is unbelievable. It is a big open track with a wide sweeping turn and it gives every horse its chance,” he said.
“It is a different environment for them up here and a lot more relaxing for them. For a lot of them they are enjoying that. It has certainly got its place and it is a great asset for the Club,” he said.
Asked about his lead in the championship Purton was circumspect replying that there was still a long way to go in the season, but that he was ‘just chipping away’. At 86 winners over Karis Teetan with 61 and Joao Moreira with 44 Purton could be described as doing a great job with his chipping.
Later races on the programme included a winning double by Chad Schofield, first with the Jimmy Ting trained Dragon Warrior (AUS) (Haradasun) in the HK$690,000, Greater Bay Area Cup (1800m) and secondly with Michael Chang’s Happy Rocky (GB) in the HK$920,000, Conghua Cup (2200m).
Danny Shum’s Lucky Hero (AUS) (Northern Meteor) with Vincent Ho took the HK$920.000, Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup (1200m)and John Moore’s The Createth (AUS) under Silvestre de Sousa won the HK$920,000. Guangzhou-Hong Kong Cup (1200m).