By David Morgan
Chris So has enjoyed a fine start to the Hong Kong season, welcoming five winners from the first five fixtures, and the handler upped the ante at Sha Tin this afternoon (Sunday, 25 September) with a show stealing four-timer at meet six to sneak clear at the top of the trainer standings.
So turned to the equally in-form Nash Rawiller to steer Sea Warrior to success in the opener, then took the third with the Brett Prebble-partnered Natural Friendship and clinched the day’s trophy race, the Class 3 Po Leung Kuk Centenary Cup Handicap (1200m) with Team Fortune, in tandem with Douglas Whyte.
But it was Joao Moreira who delivered the little touch of magic required to seal the quadruple atop the hitherto frustrating five-year-old Lotus Breeze (117lb) – 22 Hong Kong starts without a win before today.
“I didn’t think I’d won, to be honest!” exclaimed Moreira after a last-stride lunge had nicked the verdict by a nose from long-time leader Multimax (114lb). “I had heaps of horse to win the race but I was held up by the horse on the outside laying into me and then I asked him to get there and he just found – he gave it to us, that fourth winner for Chris.”
So, a former assistant to three-time champion trainer Caspar Fownes was registering a first four-timer in his fourth season with a licence.
“The new horses I got last year, their ratings were just too high, so I did a lot of work last season – I kept running them and then at the end of last season I knew my horses were coming right. But then the season ended, so I expected to start well this time. I thought that I’d do well in the first couple of months of the season,” he explained.
“Some of those horses I had last season have improved through the summer, too. My style is to take things a little bit slowly with the new horses, give them a bit of time and allow them to develop and learn. There’s no point pushing them too early if they’re not ready. If you push, you have no horse left.”
Moreira, meanwhile, went into today with four wins for the campaign, six adrift of the early pace-setter Zac Purton – a sluggish beginning by the Brazilian’s remarkable standards. But the two-time Champion Jockey drove home a treble to take the day’s riding honours, kicking off with a race four win aboard the jittery but talented Mr Picasso, which owed something to the rider’s keen eyes behind the starting gate.
“Luckily Joao spotted that he’d just twisted the shoe sideways,” trainer David Hall revealed after carrying off the Class 4 Leighton Handicap (1200m). “If Joao hadn’t seen it he’d have been in all sorts of trouble, so it was a sharp eye from the jockey there. He helped us out, but then that’s another thing – that incident hasn’t helped the horse’s nerves, he’s done it despite that, so I’m glad he’s got the job done.
“Everybody knows he’s got plenty of ability. He’s shown that from his trials and his first couple of runs were very good – he was just unlucky he didn't win one last season,” Hall added. The Hong Kong International Sale graduate was winning at the fifth attempt.
“He’s still very much a baby; mentally, he’s quite nervous, he sweats up in the yard and he’s had plenty of schooling in the afternoons – he doesn’t worry about it in the afternoons but come race day, with the people and the crowd, he certainly does a bit of worrying,” he continued. “I think the more racing he has and the more experience he gains, if his mind settles down he can increase his distances and go a bit further in the ratings. It was good today to get the win out of the way, get the horse some confidence and he probably won't get too heavily penalised for that sort of win so he’ll get another go at Class Four and that will do the horse’s confidence a lot of good.”
Moreira was also on hand to give Champion Trainer John Size a first win of the campaign. That came in race six, the Class 4 Sun Wui Handicap (1400m), in which Size’s House Of Fun (127lb) had to dig deep to repel the blanket challenge of Superior Boy (130lb), A Beautiful (133lb) and Home Run (132lb), scoring by a head.
The day’s Class 2 finale went to the Danny Shum-trained Circuit Land. The 99-rated five-year-old, a two-time winner on the dirt at Sha Tin, made it two wins on the turf course, too, as he defied top-weight of 133lb to land the Ventris Handicap (1400m). That ensured a Rawiller double.
“He’s a small horse so I think he can go again in Class 1 off a lighter weight,” said Shum. “But we’ll probably now wait for December on the dirt, an 80 to 105 race, or there’s a race at Happy Valley, but we’ll see how much the handicapper puts him up.”
Hong Kong racing returns at Happy Valley on Wednesday evening, 28 September.
Douglas Whyte partners the Chris So-trained Team Fortune to win the Po Leung Kuk Centenary Cup (Class Three, 1200m) at Sha Tin Racecourse today.
Lotus Breeze (white and yellow cap) snatches the Sunning Handicap (Class Three, 1200m) for trainer Chris So and jockey Joao Moreira.
Chris So celebrates with Joao Moreira after achieving a four-timer today.