Simply Brilliant won a dramatic Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley tonight, Wednesday, 9 January, but the biggest drama came once victory was sealed.
One stride after the line, the Frankie Lor-trained gelding appeared to take a misstep and pitched rider Alexis Badel to the turf. The Frenchman was spared serious injury as the rest of the 10-runner field galloped around him.
An outrider caught Simply Brilliant – to warm hand claps from the crowd – and accompanied the Frankel five-year-old back to his relieved trainer unscathed after completing a rider-less circuit. Ambulance crew had, by that time, attended to a limping Badel, who got the biggest applause of all.
“Not too bad, quite stiff. It could have been worse,” was the jockey’s understated response when asked how he was.
The race itself had gone ideally for Badel and his mount. The chestnut broke smartly and rolled forward, his rider opting to slot behind the pace-setting 3.3 favourite Time Warp. There he stayed until the top of the straight; angled out, Simply Brilliant challenged the dual G1 winner and at the 150m point his white nose was in front, not to be passed.
“It was perfect,” Badel said. “The horse showed very good speed, he was very fresh and had plenty of energy so I could have even led. I was happy behind the favourite but he was very strong today and gave me a very good turn-of-foot. He kept going impressively – he’s still improving.”
Citron Spirit, a 48/1 shot, roared late under Matthew Poon to finish three quarters of a length second, with the Joao Moreira-ridden Insayshable a close third. But neither looked like preventing Simply Brilliant from notching a second win on the bounce and first at Happy Valley.
“I was a bit surprised he won, he has improved,” Lor said. “But when he won over a mile last time, I thought it looked like 1800 metres would be suitable for him.”
And the handler, like Badel, believes the 5.2 winner might have more improvement still to come.
“He’s progressed and he might still keep progressing through the season,” Lor said, before cautioning, “Happy Valley races usually are a little bit easier to win than at Sha Tin, so it’s hard to say how much better he might be. We need to see after this if he can improve again.”
Simply Brilliant has now won five of 12 Hong Kong starts and has only once finished out of the first four. Lor, though, is undecided about the British import’s next assignment with a certain G1-winning stablemate being aimed at the upcoming G3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin.
“Glorious Forever will run in that race so I’m not sure where this horse will go,” Lor said. “I’ll have to think about it – the (G1) Hong Kong Gold Cup is 2000 metres so that might be too far for him.”
Time Warp, returning to the scene of his track record performance for the first time since June 2017, failed to fire despite enjoying an untroubled run on the lead. The big chestnut faded to fourth under his 133lb burden.
“It’s never easy carrying that weight against horses like this but to be frank I thought he’d give me a bit more,” jockey Zac Purton said.
The winning time was 1m 48.83s, which is 1.22s slower than Time Warp’s record.
Poon, meanwhile, said of the Ricky Yiu-trained Citron Spirit: “The light weight and the fast pace suited him and it was a very good run.”
Country Star landed the last, the Class 2 Cannon Handicap (1200m), to give Moreira and champion trainer John Size a double. That score took the three-year-old to the top of the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge standings; the points-based contest started on 5 September and will conclude on 13 February.
Moreira and Size teamed up earlier with another three-year-old sprinter: Special Stars made all to land race three, a 1000m Class 3 handicap.
Vincent Ho and Francis Lui also paired for a double. Universal Go Go ended a 72-race losing streak for Lui in race five, and after that seven-week dearth, the handler repeated in race seven thanks to the Ho-ridden Racing Luck.
The nine-year-old Spinning Dancer took the opener for Manfred Man under Neil Callan; Strathallan’s win in race two was the first time Karis Teetan and trainer Tony Millard had combined for success since the same horse won on 13 October; Super Lucky enjoyed an easy win under Zac Purton in race three, his first start since a transfer to the Caspar Fownes stable.