Trainer Richard Gibson paid tribute to Hong Kong Jockey Club consultant Nick Columb after Right Honourable anchored a double for both his handler and jockey Zac Purton with victory in the Class 4 Sheung Tak Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 12 September).
Columb, a long-term racing industry heavyweight in his native Australia and on the global scene more broadly, died in Spain in early August. He worked with the Club on a number of bloodstock fronts and formed strong connections with many Hong Kong owners.
“My first thoughts after this horse passed the post tonight were for Nick,” Gibson said.
“He loved Happy Valley, he loved this track, and he helped this owner (Yan Ming) to buy this horse. He’s left a big Hong Kong racing, he was only here for a short time but he made a big impact and left a major imprint. So tonight, I want to pay my respects to Nick – a big high-five to him.”
While Right Honourable (132lb) has raced consistently without winning in Class 3 throughout his time in Hong Kong, having arrived on a rating of 73, he is now a winner of two from three in Class 4, both times demonstrating a deft turn of foot. Tonight, he swept past his rivals under Purton to record an effortless two and a half length victory.
“This horse is not a particularly big horse, barely 1000 pounds, so first-up we always knew he’d be strong tonight,” Gibson said.
“He had a lovely trial 10 days ago and everything went to plan today, it was a great ride from the champion.”
Reigning champion rider Purton brought up his second win of the night aboard the Chris So-trained Eighty Eighty (121lb), victorious in the Class 3 Shun Lee Handicap (1200m).
For So, who has prepared six second placegetters from the first 36 races this season, the win was a welcome change of luck.
“I normally cheer my horses home very loudly, but I stayed completely silent for this race, so maybe that’s what I need to change,” said a relieved So with a laugh.
“No, the horses have been running well and I know that if they keep running well the wins will come.
“This horse is not a top-liner but he’s very honest and consistent. I hoped over the summer he might really strengthen up and, while he did improve a little bit, he wasn’t like some horses who really change. He had a perfect ride from a top jockey in Zac tonight and I think he will be a nice Class 3 horse this season.”
As for Gibson, the trainer – celebrating his 49th birthday today – also tasted success with German import Faithful Trinity (114lb), who scored his first Hong Kong triumph in the Class 3 Oi Man Handicap (1650m).
The Wiener Walzer four-year-old, who won the Group 2 Gran Criterium (1500m) in Italy as a juvenile, had shown promise at the end of last season and the trainer believes that he can continue to progress in his third Hong Kong term.
“Faithful Trinity was always going to be nailed on for an 1800m race early in the season, especially at Happy Valley,” he said of the Matthew Chadwick-ridden galloper.
“We rolled the dice by going to a mile first-up and it worked out. Full marks to Matthew, we didn’t want to take the horse back at the start, we wanted a positive jump. Luckily, the apprentice set a good tempo on Thunder Stomp and the race unfolded well.”
Chadwick shared riding honours with a double of his own, unleashing a front-running masterclass on Holy Unicorn (118lb) to take the Class 5 Cheung Hong Handicap (1800m) at the five-year-old’s first run for Jimmy Ting. This meant that Ting has trained the winner of the opening race at three of the first four meetings this term – although the freshman trainer said it is a mixed blessing.
“I’m happy, but it is also a reminder that all of my horses are in the lower grades!” Ting exclaimed. “A win is a win though and I am very happy if they keep winning.”
First Glory for Cruz’s new recruit Circuit
Trainer Tony Cruz says that Class 2 Wah Fu Handicap (1650m) winner Circuit Glory (119lb) is capable of finding the form that saw him win the Group 2 Championship Stakes (2100m) in New Zealand pre-import, but that he needs a serious attitude adjustment in order to reach those heights.
“I’ve watched him for a while and he’s got a lot of bad habits, he showed them again tonight,” Cruz said. “But he’s always been an impressive horse, he won five of seven in New Zealand, and I think that if he can just be a bit better with his manners, he can win a few races this season.
“Derek (Leung) rode an ideal race and he won with a bit of authority there.”
The night’s feature, the Class 3 Community Chest Cup Handicap (1000m), was taken by the Ricky Yiu-trained Keep Moving (123lb), who appreciated the 10-pound claim of apprentice Victor Wong.
“He’s a horse with plenty of talent, but he’s had a few issues,” Yiu said.
“Not many horses can win five from 10 in Hong Kong though. The Happy Valley 1000m is perfect for him with tempo and pace, so I will look for another one now he will be in Class 2.
Yiu also prepared a double with Mickey Rich (128lb) taking the first section of the Class 4 Hing Man Handicap (1200m). The Sepoy four-year-old provided jockey Neil Callan with his first win of the term.
Also scoring a first win for the season was trainer David Ferraris, with Ambitious Heart (126lb) racing clear for a strong on-speed win in the Hing Man Handicap’s second section under Alberto Sanna.