Doctor Geoff scooted away with the Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley last night (Wednesday, 8 January) to set up a potentially big month for connections.
Francis Lui has emerged as a force in the trainer’s title race this season, aided by the ascendant Vincent Ho who has guided 11 of the stable’s 25 winners so far; the pair linked-up with owner Huang Kai Wen for tonight’s feature, with all three men anticipating big results in the upcoming Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
Lui also trains Huang’s rising star More Than This heading into the Series’ first leg, the Hong Kong Classic Mile on 27 January, in which Ho is slated to ride Lui’s other exciting young talent, Golden Sixty. Huang, who also has Playa Del Puente as a Classic Series candidate, is best known for his Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint victor Peniaphobia.
But this evening the spotlight fell on Doctor Geoff, sixth in the final two legs of the 2018 Classic Series, and shaping as something of a specialist these days over the Valley’s 1800m.
“He likes the track, he likes the distance and he had a light weight,” Lui said after the six-year-old had pocketed a third win at the track and trip.
“He enjoys it here because sometimes he’s nervous but when he comes here he’s calmer. The short straight here also seems to suit him better.”
Doctor Geoff settled in a tracking spot outside race leader Time Warp (125lb), battled to the fore on the final turn and kicked on for a length and a half score despite hanging out in the run to the line. The winning time was 1m 48.10s.
“At one spot, I thought Time Warp might be better than us but when I hit the straight my horse picked up really well and was strong to the line,” Ho said.
Doctor Geoff – winner of the Listed Tetrarch Stakes as a three-year-old in Ireland – was making his Group race breakthrough, having raced in pattern grade only twice previously.
“I wouldn’t say I was confident about winning but he’s in good form and the preparation I’d given him, everything was ready for this race,” Lui said.
The diminutive gelding – weighing 1002lb for this test – carried a featherweight 115lb.
“He struggles with bigger weights,” Lui added and suggested his charge might struggle when he rises above his current 101 rating, with a light burden in Group 3 handicaps the ideal scenario.
“It will be difficult now – I’ll have to check the programme,” he said.
The Danny Shum-trained Harmony Victory (115lb) closed for second under Grant van Niekerk, while the Macau raider Sacred Capital (118lb) had to wait for a gap before running on down the inside rail for third-place under Joao Moreira.
Ho snared a double when backing up in the next race, the Class 3 Great George Handicap (1800m), aboard the Ricky Yiu-trained World Famous. The handler’s 32nd win of the campaign ensured he remained seven clear of Lui at the top of the premiership.
Zac Purton collected a sixth double at the track this season when the Benno Yung-trained Joyful Union lifted late to take section two of the Class 3 Causeway Handicap (1200m).
The champion jockey hit the mark earlier in race two, the second section of the Class 4 Kingston Handicap (1200m), when he steered the John Moore-trained Shouson to a first win at his 16th Hong Kong start.
Grant van Niekerk also bagged a double and took his tally for the season to 22, with Jimmy Ting becoming the eighth trainer to have provided the jockey with a winner this term.
The South African timed his drive with precision in the opener – section one of the Class 4 Kingston Handicap (1200m) – as he rousted the Me Tsui-trained Good For You on a late run to nick the spoils by a head.
Van Niekerk followed up two races later when he settled the Ting-trained Polymer Luck outside the leader, cruised to the front upon turning for home and drove hard for the line. The Hong Kong International Sale graduate sealed his third career win at his 42nd outing.
Ting left the track with a treble. He made it a race-to-race double when What A Legend coasted past long-time leader Confucius Day for a cosy win under Chad Schofield in section three of the Class 4 Kingston Handicap (1200m).
The handler took the finale, section one of the Class 3 Causeway Handicap (1200m), when Baby responded to a power-packed Silvestre de Sousa drive.
First season trainer Douglas Whyte and jockey Karis Teetan have struck a rich seam together. The pair enjoyed their fifth win from 15 pairings when Winning Endeavour broke his Hong Kong maiden with a late surge in the Class 4 Paterson Handicap (1650m).