By Andrew Hawkins
Jockey Keith Yeung remains hopeful that a pair of impressive last-start winners can help him return to the winners’ circle at Sha Tin on Sunday (18 June), with the local hoop set to partner Keen Venture in the Class 2 Moon Koon Handicap (1600m) and Lucky Dollar in the Class 2 The Racing Club Handicap (1200m).
Keen Venture, trained by Almond Lee, swooped down the outside over this course and distance last start to score impressively, downing subsequent G3 Lion Rock Trophy (1600m) winner Booming Delight. It was a win that shocked punters, who had sent the Sebring gelding off at 41-1, and Yeung admitted that he had not expected a win pre-race.
“I didn’t have the confidence that he could win but I was confident he could run a good race, that he would run very well,” Yeung said at Sha Tin on Friday (16 June). “He’s the type of horse that is always giving his best and giving it everything. He had been running well but he just needed a few things to go his way, especially the pace, and it did there.”
Yeung admitted that Keen Venture is a hostage to tempo, in that the four-year-old needs to get back and come with one swooping run – a trait that was first evident in his previous career in Melbourne, when he raced as Tulsa for trainer Mike Moroney.
“The only thing he needs is a good pace – the stronger the pace, the better chance he is,” he said. “It was the same in Australia. He has to get back in the run, he has a soft mouth so the more relaxed he is early in the race, the stronger the finish he will give. We tried to ride him a little closer in the run when he had a better barrier, but he just couldn’t do it. He is what he is, you have to ride him where he is happy.”
Keen Venture was given a week off after his last run, with Yeung believing that will allow the chestnut the best opportunity to go back-to-back.
“He had a little break after his last win,” he said. “He’s not the type of strong horse that can handle plenty of racing, so the little break will suit him. I think he has improved from his last run. I worked him the last two days, he’s giving me the same feeling that he is fit and healthy.
Yeung returns after missing Wednesday night’s (14 June) meeting at Happy Valley, having been involved in a fall at Sha Tin last Sunday (11 June).
“I’m very good now, I’m keen,” Yeung said. “I feel fit. You can’t be more lucky than that, it feels like I won the lottery and now hopefully we can win on Sunday.”
Keen Venture (121lb) tackles 11 rivals, including Hong Kong Classic Mile runner-up Seasons Bloom (133lb), John Moore-trained People’s Knight (126lb) and consistent Jolly Jolly (121lb). The Class 2 Moon Koon Handicap is set as the ninth of 10 races and is scheduled to jump at 5:10pm.
The other Class 2 event on Sunday’s card is The Racing Club Handicap over 1200m, a race that sees Yeung reunited with last-start winner Lucky Dollar.
Lucky Dollar (118lb) won a Class 3 event over the straight 1000m on 13 May with Zac Purton in the saddle, but Yeung – who rode the All American four-year-old on debut – returns to the plate for Sunday’s contest.
“I think he has the class to win a race in this grade,” he said. “This race is going to be difficult for him, though. I’m not saying that the opposition is too strong, I think he is as good as them, but he has some fast horses drawn to his inside so it is going to be difficult for him to get a position.
“Even then,” he continued, “he might have to spend too much energy to get there and he won’t get his best chance. He’s a fast horse, so you don’t want to wait and sit because you don’t give him his best chance and you still risk being stuck out wide. He’s a nice horse though and he’s improving, so whatever he does on Sunday, he will be better again next start and next season.
“Still, I hope that he can win on Sunday.”
The likely pace is also a factor for Purton, who sticks with eye-catching debut winner Little Giant from gate two.
“I probably wouldn’t think he would be leading the horses in this race,” Purton said. “They are quite quick, they like to get on with things. So if I can get onto their back and get a nice tag into the race, like we did last time, that would be ideal.”
David Hall-trained Little Giant was well-supported at his first Hong Kong start, having arrived from New Zealand with wins over horses like G1 Australian Cup (2000m) winner Humidor and G2 Brisbane Cup (2200m) winner Chocante as well as trialling nicely in the lead-up to his debut.
He did not disappoint, racing clear for an effortless length and three quarter victory on 7 May. He also makes the step into Class 2 company for the first time, but Purton believes he is up to the grade.
“It’s always a bit early to tell where they will get to, you have to get them into Class 2 and throw them in the deep end a little bit before they start matching up against the better class horses,” Purton said. “That said, he’s done everything right so far and I think he can measure up in this grade.”
Little Giant (122lb) will not have raced for six weeks when he steps out on Sunday, but was kept up to the mark with a 1200m dirt trial last Friday (9 June).
“Because he’s had the time between runs, David has backed off him a bit and has brought him back up,” Purton said. “So he hasn’t improved a lot from that first run but he’s kept ticking over nicely and he’s doing everything that we want him to do. The trial was good last week, he was probably a little bit keener than what I would have liked but having that race revved him up a little bit. He’s in good form.”
Others in the event include five-time winners this season in Sea Jade, who will carry 123lb with Matthew Poon's claim, and House Of Fun (132lb), as well as Shamal, who has won his last four races in succession; he is set to carry 121lb with Dylan Mo’s allowance.
Scheduled as the closer to Sunday’s 10-race card, the Class 2 The Racing Club Handicap (1200m) is marked to get underway at 5:45pm. The opener, the Beijing Clubhouse Plate (1000m) for the griffins, is set for 1pm.
Keith Yeung celebrates as Keen Venture storms home to win a Class 2 event over 1600m last start.
Little Giant scores a comfortable win at his Hong Kong debut last month.