Macau is on the cards for Packing Dragon (120lb) after the game front-runner held off a swarm of challengers to win the Class 2 Wong Nai Chung Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley tonight, Wednesday, 7 February.
The brave grey nicked his fifth win at the course and distance by a diminishing nose from Prawn Baba (125lb), the horse that stalked closest throughout. Rickfield (114lb), Happilababy (107lb) and Victory Boys (114lb) pressed late, two short-heads and a neck apart, as the first five in the field of eight flashed past the post within a half-length of each other.
Winning rider Matthew Poon betrayed no hesitation when asked if he thought that the 11/1 shot had prevailed.
“No!” he said. “I’ve been unlucky recently, so I didn’t think I’d got it – I was quite happy when my number came up, that’s for certain.”
Packing Dragon took the HK$1.86 million contest in a time of 1m 51.68s, more than two and a half seconds outside of standard. That moderate pace proved to be crucial for last season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge winner.
“It was a typical small-field tempo – not strong – we had control of the race,” Poon said. “If we ran the race again it might be a different story but the tempo really suited.
“Prawn Baba travelled pretty keenly and wanted to go in front of me, but the tempo meant that he stayed where he was – if he’d been able to come across me we might not have won.
“Packing Dragon is really honest though,” the seven-pound apprentice continued. “He kept trying, he has a big heart and when the pressure came he kept finding. I feel that he hit the line pretty strongly – he was fighting the last 400 (metres), right the way through.”
A half-brother to Hong Kong great Ambitious Dragon, trainer Ricky Yiu’s charge has carved a lucrative niche as a smart front-runner around Happy Valley’s tight contours – tonight’s success was the six-year-old’s seventh at the venue. Yiu is keen to venture further afield though, across the Pearl River delta at least, with an entry made earlier this week for the Macau Hong Kong Trophy at Taipa on 4 March.
“I want to go to Macau with him, it might be a bit short – the 1500 metres isn’t ideal – but he’s tough and honest so I’d like to go there. Chad (Schofield) rode him last year when he won the Million Challenge so he’ll ride him there,” the handler confirmed.
Yiu followed up in the next race, the Class 4 Leighton Handicap (1200m). Sharpmind galloped to the lead inside the final 100m and held on determinedly under Umberto Rispoli for a neck score.
“When Sharpmind came to Hong Kong he was very skinny, he wasn’t strong enough, but he’s maturing now. He races well at Happy Valley so we’ll keep him racing here for a while,” the trainer said of the 3.4 favourite, who now has two wins on the board from 10 starts.
Charity Glory (6.1) leapt to the lead in this season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge with a second course and distance win of the campaign in the seventh race, the Class 3 Russell Handicap (1200m). Danny Shum’s charge now has 49 points in the competition, three more than E-Super.
The Million Challenge started on 6 September and will end on 21 February. Points are awarded to the first four finishers in Class 3 races and above at the city track.
Rawiller was seen at his power-packed best in the Class 5 opener, too. The Australian lifted the Francis Lui-trained Fine With Me (132lb) across the line to edge out Victory Follow Me (133lb) by a short-head.
Lui earned a brace when Zac Purton set the right fractions on the front-running 2/1 favourite High Volatility in the sixth, the Class 4 Percival Handicap (1650m).
The Richard Gibson-trained Navas flew late under Dylan Mo to snare the night’s trophy contest, the Class 4 Craigengower Cricket Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1200m). The 19/1 chance got up to deny 24/1 hope Numero Uno.
In the night’s stamina test, the Class 4 Canal Handicap (2200m), Happy Rocky took the spoils at odds of 13/1 for trainer Almond Lee and jockey Karis Teetan. The latter made it two on the night when driving home the Peter Ho-trained Let’s Take It Easy (9.2) in the 1650m finale.