Blake Shinn did well to keep the welling emotion in check after fulfilling a boyhood dream at Happy Valley on Wednesday evening, 11 September.
“It’s been years in the making,” the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey said, his voice teetering on the brink of cracking in the moments after he’d guided Green Dispatch to victory in the Valley’s first race of the season.
Blake Shinn goes through the line for his first Hong Kong win, photo HKJC
“I’m pretty emotional to get it out of the way,” he admitted, “I’ve wanted to ride in Hong Kong for a long time, since I was a little boy, so it’s pretty touching to finally be here.
“To be competing on the world stage and to get that first winner out of the way, it’s special.”
The timing was extra special at that: the Australian sealed his breakthrough Hong Kong win on the day of his mum’s 60th birthday.
Shinn, who broke his neck in a barrier trial fall a little more than a year ago, was out of luck at his first two Hong Kong meetings since his arrival on a six-month contract. But the former Sydney champion had shown his quality in defeat through 17 races at Sha Tin, riding to five second place finishes and a couple of thirds.
“It has been a little bit frustrating because your only aim is to win but you’ve got to put things into perspective: all in all, I thought I’d been doing everything right but just not winning. You’ve got to keep doing the little things right and that’s what I’ve been focusing on,” he said.
Shinn displayed cool confidence on the Danny Shum-trained Green Dispatch (126lb) in the Class 4 Shek O Handicap (1650m). The rider shoved the grey to the front right out of the gate, dictated the tempo, kicked off the final turn and kept on for a neck success over the closing Speedy Wally (118lb).
“It was just a matter of time before the win came really and it’s come now, so I’m just relieved and grateful to everyone that has stuck by me, around the world, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and the people back in Australia,” he added.
Luck’s a Million
The DBS x Manulife Million Challenge kicked off with the Class 2 Big Wave Bay Handicap (1650m). The HK$1 million competition runs through to 26 February and awards points to the first four horses across the line in all races of Class 3 and above at the city track.
Green Luck (119lb) sealed a double for his “Green” themed owner Li Wing Hon, and picked up a maximum 15 points in the Million Challenge for an impressive score in the evening’s classiest contest.
Trainer Caspar Fownes has always held the five-year-old in good regard and his opinion was justified when the Street Cry gelding stopped the clock at a track record 1m 38.58s, a length and a half clear of runner-up Helene Charisma (119lb).
“I’m very impressed. I’ve said it for a while, this horse is (capable of) triple figures. It’s nice to see him do that because that was a tough effort, really, to get going when he did and in the end he was very strong on the line,” Fownes said.
Jockey Joao Moreira settled the 90-rated Australian import second last in the nine-runner field before starting a long advance for home with 700m to race. The Brazilian bustled his mount through a sustained wide-running effort that secured the lead 200m out and bagged a third win at the track and trip.
“Caspar said to try to look after him for the first half of the race and then to start asking him a little bit early because he’s got a long run,” Moreira said.
“I didn’t think it was a track record but I could feel like he was running home very strongly. All the praise should go to Caspar, he got this horse so well for today and I’m very pleased and lucky to be on board.”
Fownes is confident that last season’s Hong Kong Classic Mile sixth has more to offer.
“He came here with a bit of character but I said to the owner that he’s got something there, he’s got a big engine, we just had to get into his head and sort him out. It’s great that he’s started this season well and hopefully we can go on to bigger things with him,” the trainer said.
“This track suits him and there are enough races here for him, but to be a good horse in Hong Kong you have to go and do it at the other track, so when the opportunity arises and he’s handicapped off a low weight against good horses, I’ll take them on and see what happens.”
Moreira nabbed a double when Smart Leader edged the finale, the Class 3 Chung Hom Kok Handicap (1200m), for trainer Tony Cruz, leaving both men at the head of their respective premierships with five wins apiece.
Douglas Whyte saddled his third winner from 11 runners, and his second in tandem with Alberto Sanna, when Last Kingdom broke his Hong Kong duck at start 21. The Frankel gelding barreled to the lead from the gate, threw his head around once there, but eventually settled into a rhythm that took him to a length and a quarter win in the Class 3 Deep Water Bay Handicap (1650m).
“He’s been really keen but he’s learned to switch off nicely in the mornings,” Whyte said of his charge, who was previously with trainers Tony Millard and Paul O’Sullivan.
“He’s not the best beginner,” the former champion jockey continued, “he’s a grinder and with no real leader tonight I thought he could dictate things, and if he did that, with fitness on his side, he could benefit from it. I was surprised that having got a bit keen he still quickened away and dropped them turning for home. He did a pretty good job to stay on because he must have run some good sectionals the last 300 (metres).”
Jockey Chad Schofield and trainer Richard Gibson have enjoyed some big days together, including Rattan’s G2 Sprint Cup victory on 7 April: that win, in fact, was the last time the duo teamed up successfully, until tonight, when Prawn Yeah Yeah broke the partnership’s run of outs in the Class 5 South Bay Handicap (1000m).
Trainer Ricky Yiu got off the mark for the term when 10lb apprentice Alfred Chan made all atop Megatron in the Class 5 Stanley Handicap (1650m). Jack Wong successfully made the running too, taking the Class 4 Repulse Bay Handicap (1200m) on the Me Tsui-trained Very Sweet Orange.
Keith Yeung timed it right in the Class 4 Middle Bay Handicap (1000m). The rider delivered the Jimmy Ting-trained Hardly Swears (123lb) in the final strides to land the spoils at 64/1, denying the even-money favourite Best Smile (132lb) by a neck.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday, 15 September.