Building vital mid-season momentum, John Size took training honours with a double at Sha Tin on Monday when Red Lion clinched the HK$3.72 million Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m) in front of a crowd of 81,049.
Boosting his tally to 29 wins, Size has moved steadily into fourth place in the Hong Kong trainers’ championship behind Pierre Ng (47), Francis Lui (32) and Ricky Yiu (30) after Howdeepisyourlove followed Red Lion’s gritty success in the afternoon’s feature.
Enhancing his record to five wins and four minor placings from 18 starts with prize money of more than HK$12 million, Red Lion earned the praise of 12-time champion trainer Size after Zac Purton tracked leaders Duke Wai and Super Wealthy into the straight before angling into the clear before taking the lead.
Challenged fiercely by Mugen at the 150m, Red Lion rallied bravely to win by a neck with a fading Duke Wai 8.25-lengths further back third with an overall winning time of 1m 21.42s.
“He’s (Red Lion) been a good horse. He won four races last season and he’s done a fantastic job to come back on a reasonably high mark (102) and win another race,” Size said of the Belardo five-year-old, who won twice in Ireland when known as Fiach McHugh when trained by Andrew Slattery.
“He fought like a lion. We’ll see what happens to his rating and try place him in another one he can go close in.”
Purton, who leads the Hong Kong jockeys’ championship with 65 wins from Karis Teetan (44), said: “He (Red Lion) just had the right run. There were some horses that were well out of form and not well placed in that race. It was really a race in two. I had to carry the weight (125lb) compared to the up and coming, nice young progressive horse (Mugen, 115lb).
“It was a good battle – they both had their chance to win. I thought at the 150m, he had me when he was breathing down on me like that but, to my horse’s credit, maybe being a little older, more seasoned, a bit tougher, that was probably the telling factor in the end.”
Size completed a double when Brenton Avdulla weaved through traffic late on Howdeepisyourlove as last season’s Hong Kong Champion Griffin prevailed.
Backing up from his eighth place in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) eight days ago, Howdeepisyourlove posted his first win at Sha Tin as Avdulla revelled in a memorable day following his win on Tony Cruz-trained California Voce.
“I’ve just tried to ride my races, stay confident – I feel like I’m riding well,” Avdulla said.
“It’s nice to get a result. California Voce is a progressive horse and Howdeepisyourlove, you had to forgive him the other day (in the Hong Kong Classic Mile) and today, off a good gallop, the master trainer (Size) rarely gets it wrong, and the horse presented at the right time, bullied his way through and won like a good horse.”
Cruz is hopeful California Voce can progress to the HK$26 million Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on March 24 after the Irish import earned a PP bonus of HK$1.5 million after a driving victory from the tail of the field.
“Hopefully he can get his rating up and get into the Derby,” Cruz said. “He’s needs longer distance, but this horse is going places. He won well today.”
Giddy Up, trained by Jamie Richards, also claimed a PP Bonus of HK$1.5 million by winning the Class 3 Kut Cheong Handicap (1400m) under Antoine Hamelin.
Lyle Hewitson notched his 100th win in Hong Kong when Chris So-trained Parterre landed the second section of the Class 4 Good Fortune Handicap (1200m), ending a run of 72 losing rides for the South African.
“It’s another winner, most importantly, and I think it’s a nice box to tick but hopefully in the long run, it’s just a small box to tick,” Hewitson said. “Look, it didn’t perturb me too much but I had a few dry meetings and it was very frustrating because I didn’t think I did too much wrong and hopefully the floodgates can open again now.”
Making a delayed debut after being scratched pre-race when he was unable to be bridled on January 7, Windcheater atoned with perfect manners and charged between runners under Luke Ferraris to win the first section of the Class 4 Good Fortune Handicap (1200m).
“We had a little bit of a false start a couple of weeks ago, but the horse has certainly got plenty of talent,” Newnham said. “I was a little bit nervous at about the 200 (metre) marker when he had nowhere to go, but the class horse that he is, as soon as the gap appeared he was able to take advantage of it.
“He’s a big raw horse. Prior to coming here he’d only had one trial, so he’s open to a fair bit of improvement.”
Frankie Lor’s Voyage Samurai also made a successful debut appearance when Derek Leung drove the Dissident gelding to victory in the Class 4 Lucky Star Handicap (1400m), while David Hayes-trained Ka Ying Rising was rewarded with success in the Class 3 Prosperity Handicap (1200m) under Zac Purton.
Beaten narrowly at his previous starts by Size’s talented Wunderbar, the Shamexpress three-year-old notched his second win at his fourth start.
“I think he’s got a good future over a bit longer because he’s just losing his pace a bit now,” Hayes said. “We’ll see how pulls up because I’d like to get his rating up a little bit more. That means we can train him for the bigger races next season and we can cruise.
“I might give him a bit of a break. He’s had three hard runs in a row so we are in no rush.”
Me Tsui and Angus Chung claimed the honour of winning the first race in the Year of the Dragon when Happy Tango swept to victory in the Class 5 Kung Hei Handicap (1200m) before Manfred Man’s Tsuen Wan Glory landed the Class 5 Fat Choi Handicap (1400m) for Matthew Chadwick, while Teetan struck aboard Ricky Yiu-trained Winning Data in the Class 4 Great Profits Handicap (1600m).