By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Chris So began the current term with two goals: to travel a horse overseas for the first time and to break his season record of 39 wins, set in his first year of training in 2013/14. His sojourn to Dubai with Fabulous One saw him achieve his first goal, and after a double at Sha Tin on Sunday (2 April) with Everest and Bravo Watchman, he is within reach of achieving the second, having equalled his haul from his freshman season.
“I hope I can get to 40, that will be my only aim for the next three months!” a laughing So said. “That was the big thing for my stable this year, to get more than 39 because I thought I had a better team and better set-up than I did in my first season. I knew going in my horses were better and they had more scope, so I’ve been glad to see it play out like it has.”
Three-year-old Bravo Watchman (124lb) is one of So’s new kids on the block, but may now be set for a stint on the sidelines after recording a gutsy win under Joao Moreira in the first section of the Class 3 Sha Tin Hoi Handicap (1200m) to remain unbeaten from three starts.
“I’ve got a nice horse in this one, but he’s still very green,” So said. “I’ve just spoken to Joao and I am thinking that we will give him a good break now. Early season, we can bring him back and hopefully he strengthens up before then. He’s done his job, three starts for three wins, for a three-year-old that’s pretty good! From three to four, he should mature physically, mentally, he’ll get better.”
Bravo Watchman’s first two wins came over the Sha Tin straight 1000m, but the Congrats gelding always shaped as though he would appreciate further. He handled his first raceday test around a bend comfortably, easing his way to a half-length success over Francis Lui-trained Winston’s Lad (124lb) while still showing signs of greenness.
“I wasn’t worried about a bend today,” So said. “He trialled before his first start at Happy Valley and being quite big, he didn’t really handle the turns. But he trialled well at Happy Valley again between his first and second starts, and I feel that he learnt plenty from trialling around the tight track there a couple of times, so I wasn’t so concerned. I knew he would need a bit of distance so he needed to get around the turn, and it was something I knew he’d be OK with after a little while. He was fine today.
“Joao said though that he’s still like a big baby. He’s still very excited by everything, it’s all new to him, so that’s why you have to keep at him, keep him busy, keep his mind on the job. But he’s done everything asked of him and hopefully, after a break, he will be able to do even more – he’s a big, strong horse already but he can be even better.”
Two races earlier, So scored a long-awaited win with four-year-old Everest (125lb) in the second section of the Class 4 Port Shelter Handicap over 1400m.
The Thorn Park gelding had placed at four of his eight starts, including three seconds, but for much of the race it appeared that a victory would remain elusive. He enjoyed a box-seat run under Sam Clipperton, but after being shifted off the leader’s heels at the 400m, it took almost the length of the straight for the horse to run down long-time pacesetter Care Free Prince (130lb).
“When Dennis Yip’s horse (Metallic Star) joined me from behind I thought he could not win,” said the trainer. “Somehow, though, he finally hit his top speed and he just got there. The jockey said that the horse coming alongside him helped to switch him on. I think next start, we will need to put some different gear on him – maybe side winkers or a visor, just something to help him concentrate.”
So now sits fourth in the trainers’ championship, behind three previous Champion Trainers – eight-time titleholder John Size (65), seven-time winner John Moore (51) and So’s mentor Fownes (46), who has won the title on three occasions.
Magic Man fires with four winners
Fresh off a rare winless streak across two meetings at Happy Valley and Randwick, Moreira was once again at his ruthless best, scoring a four-timer to take his season total to 130 wins.
The Brazilian began the day strongly with a win on Dennis Yip-trained debutant Sam’s Love (126lb) in the first section of the Class 4 Castle Peak Bay Handicap (1200m), before snaring the last three races on Bravo Watchman, Western Express and General Sherman.
John Size-trained Western Express (133lb) maintained his unbeaten record from three starts over the Sha Tin 1400m, overcoming a slow start to take out the Class 2 Tolo Harbour Handicap by a head over Me Tsui’s gallant New Asia Sunrise (125lb).
“He is a nice horse, but I have always thought he was a nice horse, even when he was getting beaten in those big races,” Moreira said. “He just wasn’t ready then, and he’s maybe not ready against horses like Rapper Dragon yet. He’s still improving and he’s still on an upward spiral. He took time to get going, but when the gap came at the 250m I was very confident that he would get there and I think it was more impressive than it appeared. He looks like a very nice sprinter and maybe miler for next season.”
Yip also scored a double, taking the first with Sam’s Love before adding Red Horse (133lb) in the Class 5 Crooked Harbour Handicap (1400m) a race later.
Racing returns to Sha Tin for an all-dirt meeting on Wednesday night (5 April), with the first race scheduled for 7:15pm.
Chris So��s Bravo Watchman (No.6) notches his third career win from as many starts under Joao Moreira in the Class 3 Sha Tin Hoi Handicap (1200m).
The Chris So-trained Everest (in orange) scores his maiden win under Sam Clipperton in the Class 4 Port Shelter Handicap (1400m).
John Size��s Western Express (rail side) edges clear for Joao Moreira to take out the Class 2 Tolo Harbour Handicap (1400m).
Joao Moreira completes his four-timer with the Tony Cruz-trained General Sherman in the final race of the day, the Class 3 Yan Chau Tong Handicap (1800m).