First season jockey Grant Van Niekerk’s failure to ride a winner around what he described as a ‘tricky’ track, Happy Valley, had become quite the talking point for just about everybody in racing and a source of frustration for the man himself.
So it was no surprise he allowed himself a little celebratory gesture as Little Bird won The American Club Challenge Cup (1200m) on Wednesday night to break his Happy Valley duck which had stood for 44 rides.
“It feels like my first winner,” Van Niekerk said after the win on the Ricky Yiu-trained gelding whose effortless winning margin of three and a half lengths allowed the jockey the luxury of an excited but measured celebration. It was a win well received with plenty of over the rail handshakes for the jockey who is a ten time Group 1 winner in his home country South Africa.
The jockey wasn’t letting the Valley drought get him down. His seven Sha Tin winners in the first two months represented a satisfactory tally for any newcomer and he felt he could have been an earlier winner at Happy Valley where he’d ridden eight placegetters.
“I really feel like I could have had a couple of winners here, before this, with a touch of luck. I’m glad that I’ve now been able to break through. It was a little frustrating mainly because when you’re battling, the rides become harder to get.
“It is a very tricky track and everything takes times. It took me some time to get the rhythm of this track and you need to be on the right horse. The track is tight and quick and you need a horse with some pace. A horse who’s quick and on the bridle like Little Bird.
“It might have taken some time to break through at Happy Valley but overall I’m happy with how things have gone. You can’t come here and expect to do exceptionally well from the start. I’m happy to have ridden the winners I have and really grateful for the support I’ve had,” he said.
Van Niekerk will ride at the Panasonic Cup meeting at Sha Tin on Saturday before heading to Singapore where he’ll ride Lim’s Magic in the Singapore Gold Cup.
“I’ve picked up the ride, from Stephen Gray, on Lim’s Magic who’s on 110 pounds so I’ve been dieting since Monday. I hope to at least get down to 111 (pounds),” said the jockey whose usual weight is around 115 pounds.
Grant van Niekerk ends his Happy Valley drought on Little Bird, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club