By Andrew Hawkins
Young apprentice Matthew Poon made his first Wednesday night race meeting a memorable experience, scoring a double under lights on Sha Tin’s all-weather track on Wednesday night (31 May).
Poon is currently only licensed to ride at Sha Tin, with his ticket for Happy Valley still forthcoming. That has restricted him to weekend day meetings at the bigger circuit, at least until Wednesday night when a rare midweek fixture was held at Sha Tin.
Poon got into the winning groove early with a win in the second race, the Class 5 Silvermine Bay Handicap (1800m), aboard Ricky Yiu-trained Gentlemen (109lb), before the claimer added the second section of the Class 4 Hap Mun Bay Handicap (1200m) on Kirov (113lb) a race later.
Kirov was Poon’s third winner for his master David Hall, and the trainer was quick to suggest that the apprentice’s 10-pound claim was pivotal to the Al Maher six-year-old getting his third win at his 34th Hong Kong start.
“I think there’s obviously been a bit of hype about Matthew, he’s been getting some good opportunities and he’s been chipping away with a few winners,” Hall said. “He’s doing his job really well, but he’s still got a long way to go and it makes it a lot easier when he’s minus 10. But he’s a good lad, he listens, he’s keen and I think he’s heading in the right direction.
“Take Kirov. Once he had the claim, he was always going to be dangerous with the right run. We’ve all seen he’s quite a capable Class 4 horse, but once he’s carrying that sort of weight off a good draw, it’s pretty straightforward. I knew if Matthew could get him into the right spot, he’d be tough to beat.”
Gentlemen broke through for his first win at start 15 after Yiu made a raft of gear changes, but he was another to take note of the 10-pound claim.
“He only had to carry 109 pounds,” Yiu said. “That sort of weight, it always makes them hard to beat. This horse has just struggled to put it all together but tonight everything went his way.”
Poon holds the distinction of snaring a winner at each of the seven meetings at which he has ridden. He is now halfway to outriding his 10-pound claim, with a total of 10 wins to date; his claim will drop to seven pounds when he reaches 20 victories.
O’Sullivan finds diamond in rough with Goldie
Trainer Paul O’Sullivan admitted that he had not expected the penny to drop with Goldie Flanker so quickly, but now that the four-year-old has put three consecutive wins together, he is starting to feel that his horse can head even higher.
The Sam Clipperton-ridden Goldie Flanker (121lb) produced a meeting-fastest final 400m sectional of 22.10s, coming from second-last to win by a length and a quarter. His turn of foot even drew comparisons with one of Hong Kong’s star gallopers.
“Maybe he’s the Pakistan Star of dirt Class 4 racing,” O’Sullivan said with a laugh. “Don’t get too carried away, we’ll see where he gets later on. He has got very strong sectionals though, he was probably standing them three lengths at the 200m and he picked them up nicely. He is a promising young horse.”
Goldie Flanker had showed little in his first eight starts, but O’Sullivan puts that down to inexperience and also the Rip Van Winkle gelding’s penchant for overracing over 1400m.
“When he arrived in Hong Kong, he had very little education – he hadn’t trialled or anything like that,” he said. “This is a very difficult place if you lack experience. He just had to go through the motions. I certainly didn’t expect he could win like this once, let alone three times.
“I was running him over 1400m and he was pulling his head off, so I thought I needed to bring him back to 1200m. There’s always speed on the dirt which I thought would suit, and he had trialled well on it once, so I sent him there and away he went. Next season, I could see him getting up to 1650m, but I think he can progress even further after the off-season.”
A race earlier, Clipperton won the Class 4 Kiu Tsui Handicap (1650m) aboard John Moore-trained Spicy Kaka (120lb).
“Tonight just shows that on a good dirt surface, from a good gate, this horse has some ability,” Moore said. “He’s been a serious disappointment though, we’ve tried a few different things but he hasn’t been able to handle it, he’s been weak. I put the cheekpieces on him tonight and that made a difference. When Tommy (Berry) rode him the other day, he said to just ride the horse quietly, but I didn’t want Sam to give up that advantage of the inside gate.”
The double took Clipperton to 38 wins for the season and catapulted him into equal fourth in the jockeys’ championship, alongside Douglas Whyte.
Trainers Tony Cruz and John Size were not on track for Wednesday night’s meeting, with both in Japan preparing for Sunday’s G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) in Tokyo, where they saddle up Beauty Only and Contentment respectively.
Still, they both found the winners’ list on Wednesday night; Cruz won the Class 2 Cafeteria Handicap (1650m) on King Genki (122lb), ridden by Whyte, while Size took the closing Class 3 Clear Water Bay Handicap (1650m) with Joao Moreira-partnered Red Marvel (123lb).
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (4 June) for a 10-race card, headlined by the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m).
Apprentice jockey Matthew Poon partners the David Hall-trained Kirov for a win in the second section of the Class 4 Hap Mun Bay Handicap (1200m).
The Paul O��Sullivan-trained Goldie Flanker (No. 9) completes his third successive win in the first section of the Class 4 Hap Mun Bay Handicap (1200m).
King Genki produces a strong front-running performance to take the Class 2 Cafeteria Handicap (1650m) on the Sha Tin all-weather track tonight.