By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Tony Millard was singing in the rain after two of his stable’s “iron horses”, Supreme Flight and Penny Lane, gave the handler a double at a remarkably resilient Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 19 October).
The city track was hit with a deluge as 332.4 millimetres (13 inches) of rain fell in the 24 hours leading up to the opening event. A black rainstorm warning, hoisted at 4:00 P.M., saw the first race delayed by 15 minutes.
Yet the track handled the significant torrent with ease, the surface upgraded to yielding for the first two races before again being upgraded to good-to-yielding for race three onwards and eventually returning to the optimal good rating for the final event.
Millard was one trainer who didn’t mind the softer conditions under foot, though, with his two winners both older horses relishing the cushion in the track, although both also received exceptional front-running rides.
Supreme Flight provided the first leg of his brace with a gutsy on-pace win under 7-pound claimer Jack Wong in the night’s fourth event, the Class 4 Kam Shan Handicap (1200m).
“He’s the perfect Hong Kong horse, he’s an old horse now, he turns nine in January but he’s had almost 70 starts and won almost HK$6 million,” Millard said. “He won six races and they’ve all been around this mark. He’s something of an iron horse, you can race him week in, week out and he will always show his best.
“The wet track was good for his old legs and the boy gave him a great ride from the outside gate and he just held on.”
Two races later, Penny Lane caused a minor surprise at 28-1 by leading all the way under a perfectly-rated Karis Teetan steer.
“Karis rode him perfectly there, those sectionals show that,” Millard said. “He’s been a bit suspect at 1650m in the past because he has a wind problem, but he showed fight there to hold off the challenger. He’s another good Hong Kong horse, that’s his sixth win now but his first at Happy Valley and he is the type who will always win here and there.”
Jockeys Douglas Whyte and Chad Schofield scored riding doubles of their own, but at reverse ends of the evening.
Whyte began strongly, taking the opening Class 5 Tai Lam Chung Handicap (1000m) on Gary Ng’s St Yazin before adding the first of the night’s trophy races, the Class 3 Fakei Cup (Handicap) over 1650m on Tony Cruz-trained Wah May Baby, pushing him up to outright second on the jockeys’ championship with 13 wins.
“Wah May Baby got the favours today,” Whyte said. “I was riding him a bit towards the end of last season and he was running seconds and thirds, but he just seemed a bit too dour for sprints at his age. So today, when Mr Potential led at a strong tempo, he was able to relax and almost go to sleep. Off the good speed, he was able to sprint very strongly. On that, he can win again.”
“As for St Yazin, it was a matter of everything colliding at once – drawing one instead of 12, the wet track, the drop into Class 5, the cut back in distance. He’s a bit quirky but he showed some real courage today, it was the old St Yazin again.
For Schofield, his flourish came late, snaring the last two winners with Caspar Fownes’ Victory Marvel in the second of the night’s trophy races, the Class 3 American Club Challenge Cup (Handicap), and with Richard Gibson-trained Navas in the Tai Tam Handicap (1200m).
Schofield now has eight wins for the season, and Gibson in particular continues to be impressed by the 22-year-old rider.
“It’s so good seeing Chad doing so well. He’s a young jockey, continually improving and it was his ride that made the difference with Navas tonight,” he said, saying that his horse had made significant progress since a debut eighth in late September. “His first run was good but like all good ones, they take a step forward from their first start to their second. I was impressed by the way he sprinted late, that’s a good sign going forward.”
Francis Lui, who is preparing for the return of Group 1 placed sprinter Lucky Bubbles in Sunday’s (23 October) G2 Premier Bowl (Handicap) over 1200m, got his racing week off to a good start with the win of High Volatility in the Class 4 Kam Shan Handicap (1200m).
High Volatility, who won a juvenile stakes race in Australia when named The Barrister, broke through for his first win at start 13. The son of Star Witness had form around Hong Kong Cup aspirant Rapper Dragon as a two-year-old but, according to Lui, he had struggled to acclimatise since his arrival.
“When he arrived, he came with good form but his attitude was grim and he was a bit of a colt, so we needed to geld him,” Lui said. “Since he’s been gelded though, he’s been quite a different horse.
“We dropped him in trip for this race, instead of going up to 1650m, because the owner really wanted Zac Purton to ride and this was the only race where he didn’t have another ride!”
As for Lucky Bubbles, the trainer declared: “He’s ready for Sunday’s race. Obviously we are aiming for December and the Sprint so he’s not 100% but he’s ready to go.”
Racing resumes at Sha Tin on Sunday 23 October, with the G2 Premier Bowl (Handicap) over 1200m and the G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy (Handicap) over 1600m the two features.
Supreme Flight just holds on to give Tony Millard the first leg of a double.
Penny Lane fights on to give Tony Millard his second victory of the night.