By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Danny Shum believes French jockey Alexis Badel may have a long-term future in Hong Kong after Speedy Longwah took the Class 2 Choi Wan Handicap (1650m), thwarting a number of Hong Kong Classic Mile hopes, at Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 11 January).
Badel won the second race of his short Hong Kong stint, which began on 11 December, and his first at Happy Valley aboard last season’s Happy Valley Million Challenge winner Speedy Longwah. The rider confirmed post-race that he was hoping to base himself at Sha Tin into next month.
“At the moment, I am able to ride until the end of January but I am hoping I can continue until the end of February,” Badel said. “I think I understand how it all works a lot better now, and now I can try to improve. I am getting good opportunities from trainers like Danny so I want to stay here.”
Shum, who also provided Badel with his first Hong Kong winner, Supreme Profit at Sha Tin on 27 December, said the jockey should look to continue his riding career in Hong Kong, having been a fan of what he has seen from the 26-year-old to date.
“He should stay!” Shum stated. “And not just for one more month but for the rest of the season, all the time! The horse tonight travelled for him so strongly and he got him there. It was some effort.
“The horse had an irregular heartbeat last time, but he’s a Happy Valley specialist, he won the series last year and he’s at his best back here.”
Badel added: “I watched every race of his and I saw that he loves Happy Valley, which is very important. I had a good draw, which helped, and in the mornings, he had given me a great feeling so I went in a little bit confident.”
The Happy Valley Million Challenge rewards horses who consistently perform in Class 3 or above at the city track between September and February. This season’s Happy Valley Million Challenge may be out of reach for Speedy Longwah with two more races available to him, a Class 2 over 1650m on 25 January and a Class 1 over 1650m on 15 February – the night that the series concludes.
However, the night also produced a new Challenge leader, one who is also likely to chase a series victory in a different race on 15 February.
Tony Cruz’s Verbinsky (127lb) may have only finished a narrow third to John Moore’s Sea Jade (119lb) in the closer, the Class 2 Choi Hung Handicap (1200m), but his effort saw him take the lead in the Happy Valley Million Challenge with 42 points, two ahead of his stablemate Happy Spirit and Ricky Yiu-trained Wonderful Journey. And Cruz confirmed that the Italian import will chase a share of the HK$1 million bonus next month.
“It’s always a good series for class horses here at Happy Valley,” Cruz said, saying the consistent five-year-old will aim for the 1200m Class 1 on 15 February. “Hopefully Verbinsky can come back here next month and win the race and the title.”
The night was expected to produce potential contenders for the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, but it was Cruz who was speaking of the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) after California Joy (124lb) won the Class 3 Kai Yip Handicap (1650m) under Neil Callan.
California Joy had been touted as a horse for the four-year-old races at the start of the season, but disappointing efforts at his last three appearances had seen the boom subside around the son of Fastnet Rock.
However, Cruz said he had never lost faith in his gelding.
“I was expecting a good result today, so it was good to see him do it,” Cruz said. “He’s a horse that will get over 1800m or 2000m, and we’ll see about the Derby, but that’s where he’s heading at the moment.”
Callan said he was a bit of a quirky horse, in that he is not a horse that a rider can fight mid-race.
“He’s a big horse, he’s a galloping type,” Callan said. “He’s one of those horses, if you light him up too much, he does too much and he pulls himself into the ground. And he’s not a horse that, if he’s pulling, you just let him roll and send him to the front because he really wants something to run at. It was a pretty straightforward win tonight, he wasn’t pulling, nothing was taking us on up near the lead so it all worked out.”
Gibson returns to winners’ circle as middle leg of Callan treble
Callan and Moreira rode a treble each to take riding honours. Moreira continued his dominance at the top of the jockeys’ championship, with wins on Glory Star (128lb) in the Class 5 Shun Tin Handicap (1650m), Premiere (119lb) in the Class 3 Fu Shan Handicap (1000m) and Sea Jade in the closer taking the Brazilian to 69 winners for the season to date.
But it was perhaps Callan producing the most significant win of the night with his second winner when he steered Powermax (126lb) to victory in the Class 4 Ping Shek Handicap (1200m) for trainer Richard Gibson.
Gibson had not found the winners’ circle since 19 October, when Navas won a Class 3 at the city track, but Powermax fought on to the line under a strong Neil Callan ride to win by a short head over Derek Cruz-trained Buddy Bundy.
“Well, we always thought the Year of the Rooster would be a good year for us and it’s just around the corner now!” said a beaming Gibson. “You know, it can happen that a stable hits a bit of bad form. We’ve had a number of issues this season but hopefully this kicks off a bit of momentum.”
The handler admitted that he thought the son of Magnus was his best chance in some time of breaking his long run of outs.
“This guy was always going to have a great chance tonight and he did the job off a tricky draw in gate nine,” Gibson said. “This horse has been unlucky this season; like several of my horses, he’s run good races and hit the board without winning. We were confident tonight, and Neil did a great job. I still think he’s very green but we’ll look to step him up in distance now.
“The great story here, much more important, is the owners. These are first-time owners, it’s a first-time syndicate, a bunch of young guys with their first horse and now their first winner. It’s fantastic for me to be able to train for them and I wish them all lots of success in the future.”
Powermax provided Callan with a race-to-race double, having won the previous event – the Class 4 Lok Wah Handicap (1000m) – on Peter Ho’s heavily backed favourite Mr Right (131lb), while California Joy completed the treble.
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Saturday 14 January for a 10-race card, with the first scheduled for 1pm.
Richard Gibson celebrates his first win of 2017 with Powermax, ridden by Neil Callan.
Neil Callan cheers as he crosses the line on California Joy, bringing up a treble for the Irish rider.
Alexis Badel wins his first Happy Valley race aboard Danny Shum-trained SPEEDY LONGWAH.