On a night that celebrated French racing and Gallic culture, it was only fitting that one of France’s finest servants on the world stage emerged victorious. So it was with jockey Olivier Doleuze, who took the spoils on Prawn Baba in the Class 2 Le French May Trophy Handicap (1800m), one of two features at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (23 May).
“I’m very happy, this French celebration only comes around once a year so it’s always good to have a winner on this night,” the rider said.
“There are some people here from France that I haven’t seen in a long time so it was good to have a winner for them.”
Doleuze brought up his 13th win for the season, and his 10th for trainer John Size, aboard Prawn Baba.
The Duke Of Marmalade five-year-old had been hard-pressed when finishing a distant second to Exultant in the Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) last time out, but relished getting back to a pace-setting role under the 46-year-old hoop.
“He’s a very honest horse,” Doleuze said.
“I wanted to get to the front on him, because he’s the kind of horse who can’t have his rhythm stopped. It is difficult for those types in Hong Kong because there aren’t too many races for them. When he is able to build his momentum, though, he’s very hard to catch.
“I’m very grateful to Mr Size, it’s a privilege to have the chance to ride for him. Every race, every horse you ride for him is always a chance. We’ve had some big moments this year, obviously with D B Pin but also this horse, so it’s great to have a winner tonight.”
Size then made it a feature-race double when three-year-old Gunnison scored his first Hong Kong win in the Class 2 France Galop Cup Handicap (1200m) under Joao Moreira.
Gunnison arrived from Australia unbeaten from two starts as a juvenile, including the Group 2 Todman Stakes (1200m) at Randwick. Size demonstrated his typical patient approach, not racing the horse for nine months after his arrival in Hong Kong and bringing the Not A Single Doubt gelding steadily through his preparation.
“It was a good job from him tonight because he’s a three-year-old in Class 2,” Size said. “It looked like hard work when he arrived, but he’s managed to win a race before the end of the season so we’re pretty satisfied with that.”
Gunnison edged out his former Australian stablemate Fortune Booth, ridden by Moreira’s premiership rival Zac Purton, by a nose. The pair stopped the clock in 1m 08.56s, only four one-hundredths of a second outside the track record set by subsequent Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) winner Ivictory.
However, Size does not see Gunnison scaling the same heights.
“I don’t think Gunnison has got too much upside,” Size said.
“I think he’s going to hover around Class 2. They’ve run very fast time tonight but there were two horses that have run the same time, not just one. He could improve and should improve as a four-year-old, but I think the top of Class 2 would be a good rating for him.”
Moreira earlier rode the Ricky Yiu-trained Jolly Amber to victory in the Class 5 France Galop Owners Department Handicap (1800m) to score a double. His jockeys’ premiership lead increased to six wins after Purton struck a blank.
Jolly Amber broke through at his 17th time of asking, providing Yiu and owner Sammo Hung with a different backdrop to the last time the pair celebrated success together.
“He’s not quite as quick to win as the last horse I had for Sammo,” Yiu exclaimed, referring to Amber Sky, who won his first three starts and progressed to take the 2014 Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint (1000m) at Meydan.
“In fact, Amber Sky’s last win was in Dubai so this is my first winner with Sammo since. Jolly Amber is a horse with talent, probably one of the best horses by Sepoy in Hong Kong, but he’s just been a slow maturer, both mentally and physically. Yiu made it a brace of his own when he took the Class 4 Deauville August Yearling Sales Handicap (1000m) with the Karis Teetan-partnered Cheer Win.
“I had all sorts of words going through my mind when Karis was near the rear at the top of the straight,” Yiu admitted.
“He’s been having some issues at the gates so we put him through the barriers to help him jump quicker. Unfortunately, they had a problem at the start and so he just relaxed too much and he missed it again.
“Karis had faith in the horse though, he asked him the whole way, came to the outside and knew that he had that sort of finishing burst.”
Jockey Alvin Ng scored his first win since November, taking the Class 3 ParisLongchamp Racecourse Handicap (1650m) aboard the Tony Cruz-trained Multi Facets, while 2017 Hong Kong International Sale graduate All You Know, prepared by Richard Gibson, scored a maiden success under jockey Douglas Whyte.
The Paul O’Sullivan-trained Harrier Jet, ridden by Neil Callan, and trainer Francis Lui’s Golden Glory, steered by Vincent Ho, completed the night’s winners.
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (27 May), where the season’s final Group 1, the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), headlines proceedings. The 11-race card is also set to feature the Group 3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m).