By Andrew Hawkins
Packing Dragon may never have a record to match his half-brother, two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon, but trainer Ricky Yiu says that the grey is talented enough to be recognised in his own right after he recorded his fourth win for the 2016/17 term in the Class 2 Cornwall Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (10 May).
Packing Dragon won two Class 3 races over the Happy Valley 1800m and a Class 1 over the city track’s 1650m earlier in the season to take out the Happy Valley Million Challenge, stamping himself as a true track specialist at the urban course.
He stepped out at Sha Tin last time out, finishing seventh in the 2200m Class 2 handicap won by Beauty Generation that served as the primary lead-up to the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m). However, Yiu says that the return to Happy Valley was always going to be in his favour, despite Packing Dragon having to carry top weight of 132 pounds.
“He’s a better horse at the Valley, there’s no doubt,” Yiu said. “He’s a lovely horse though, he might be over 100 now but he’s deserved it. What a season he’s had.”
Jockey Chad Schofield settled the 6.5 third favourite Packing Dragon outside the leader What Else But You from gate 12. After engaging in a tremendous stretch duel with John Size-trained Big Bang Bong for much of the straight, favourite Friends Of Ka Ying emerged as a threat down the outside, but neither could pass Packing Dragon, with the tenacious Mastercraftsman gelding recording a neck victory.
Yiu said the switch back to Schofield was a big positive for the five-year-old.
“Chad, he knows him so well,” he said. “He only rode him once in a race but he won, and then in the trial they were first there too. There’s something about him that clicks with this horse. I thought with that weight, maybe I should put a claimer on, but I thought Chad was a better option and I booked him three weeks ago.
“I think that will be it for Packing Dragon for the year, he’s had a long and hard season. He’s exciting though, and I think that he might be even better again next season. He’s only a five-year-old. The whole stable, they love him, he’s their pin-up boy.”
Schofield’s win on Packing Dragon brought up a double for the rider. He earlier won a race for Ambitious Dragon’s former trainer Tony Millard, taking the second section of the Class 4 Lancashire Handicap (1200m) aboard Resplendent Glory.
Star Witness gelding Resplendent Glory (132lb) had won at his first start for Millard last month, cruising to a length and a half victory. On the back of that win, he was sent out a 2.1 favourite and he never looked in doubt, racing away to score by two and three-quarter lengths.
“I wasn’t as confident tonight, though,” Millard said. “It’s always difficult for horses to improve on their first run, but he did it. Maybe he was a little bit flattered, he got a nice trail behind a hot speed and burnt them off, but all you can do is win and he did that. It was a good ride by Chad.”
Powermax makes it three this term for first-time owners
It was a night for honest gallopers at Happy Valley, with Richard Gibson-trained Powermax adding a third win from eight starts in the first section of the Class 3 Dorset Handicap (1200m).
“It’s a great story,” Gibson said after Powermax landed a half-length victory over last-start winner Trump. “The owners are a group of young, enthusiastic owners, and this is their first ever horse – none of them have had a racehorse before. So for them to have a horse like this, who is so honest, has never missed a cheque and has now won three in his first season? It’s terrific. I’m so pleased for them.”
Powermax’s triumph gave Gibson his fifth winner from the last seven meetings, taking him to 12 wins for the season and within striking range of the 16-win benchmark – not that it was at the forefront of the handler’s thoughts.
“As trainers, it is something that we don’t think about,” he said. “We aren’t interested in that story. We just focus on doing our job, working hard every day, getting out there and doing the best we can.”
However, Gibson also acknowledged that a change in fortune can come from strange places: “Draw number 12 has been very lucky to me recently. This is my third win from gate 12 this season at Happy Valley after Jetwings and then Litterateur last week, so that’s rare.”
Gibson also paid tribute to rider Neil Callan, who remains the only jockey to have won on the Magnus gelding. It was the Irishman’s 38th winner of the term, cementing his position in third in the jockeys’ championship behind Joao Moreira (146) and Zac Purton (81).
“I was very glad Neil was back aboard tonight,” he said. “He gets on particularly well with the horse and I think it’s safe to say he made a difference tonight.”
A race earlier, trainer David Hall labelled Purton’s ride on Great Joy a “masterclass” after the Hong Kong International Sale graduate broke through for his maiden Hong Kong victory in the Class 4 Norfolk Handicap (1650m).
Great Joy (125lb) also jumped from the outside gate of 12, with Purton snagging back to last as Kei Chiong led at fast sectionals on Tony Cruz-trained Contribution. He was left at the tail with nowhere to go at the top of the straight, but managed to duck and weave his way through near the inside to score by a length and a quarter.
“I think if he had the opportunity to get going sooner, he would have, but he was caught on cornering – he had nothing to do and nowhere to go,” Hall said. “Once he got clear running, though, he flew. Zac’s one of the leading jockeys anywhere in the world and you just saw the reason why, that was a masterclass. This horse should have won before now but he’s been unlucky, thankfully the luck went his way tonight.”
Wednesday night marked the first of three Happy Valley meetings celebrating Hong Kong’s annual Le French May festival. Therefore, Gallic rider Olivier Doleuze was a fitting winner of the opening race, the Class 5 Suffolk Handicap (1000m), aboard Forever Fun.
Manfred Man’s Forever Fun (130lb) was a two-time course winner last season when trained by Andreas Schutz, but he had been unable to break through at 1200m this season. The drop to the minimum trip did the trick, though, as he raced to a neck victory.
“I think having a good draw helped, obviously,” Man said. “But I think it was all about Olivier there, he settled the horse in a forward position and seemed to read the race perfectly throughout.”
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Saturday (13 May) for Chairmen’s Day. The 10-race card will begin at 1pm.
Chad Schofield punches out Ricky Yiu-trained Packing Dragon (inside) to win the Class 2 Cornwall Handicap (1800m).
Tony Millard��s Resplendent Glory goes back-to-back with Chad Schofield aboard in the second section of the Class 4 Lancashire Handicap (1200m).
Neil Callan drives Powermax home to win the first section of the Class 3 Dorset Handicap (1200m) for Richard Gibson.
Great Joy, trained by David Hall, races clear for an easy win under Zac Purton in the Class 4 Norfolk Handicap (1650m).