Special Stars (124lb) showed the confident tenacity of a Scottish terrier in winning the Class 3 St. Andrew’s Challenge Quaich Handicap (1000m) at Happy Valley last night, Wednesday, 27 November.
“He’s a little horse but he tries his best, always, and it’s such a pleasure to ride him,” winning jockey Joao Moreira said as the bagpipes’ skirl filled the air 100 years on from the first running of a St. Andrew’s cup race at the track.
The John Size-trained four-year-old broke from gate one and tracked the pace-setting Jumbo Prize (119lb) along the rail, before shifting out to challenge that rival with a dogged persistence that took him to a neck victory.
“No doubt about it, the gate helped him,” Moreira said. “He’s run good races from good gates and I knew when we drew gate one that his chance was really there tonight. I was quite confident that he had a good chance.”
Special Stars gave Moreira his second win of the night, the rider having placed second in another four races.
“It’s a bit of a mix tonight but second is better than third!” the three-time Hong Kong champion said.
The Brazilian was back after a two-meeting suspension and his brace took his total at the top of the premiership to 39, five clear of rival and reigning champion Zac Purton who tonight sat out the first fixture of his own two-meeting ban.
Special Stars was the latest winner trained directly out of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Conghua Racecourse facility.
Trainer John Moore had praise for Conghua after Above landed the Class 4 Ferniehirst Handicap (2200m) under Silvestre de Sousa. The four-year-old made it two wins in as many starts since returning from the Mainland complex on 14 November.
“Some horses just don’t do well at Sha Tin and they can benefit from going to Conghua,” Moore said. “There’s too much buzz around the stable in Hong Kong. And the horses that don’t do well in that environment, you’re better off sending them to Conghua because you can hear a pin drop there, it’s so quiet.”
Above nabbed his third career win as he hung on in a drive to the line with the late-closing Dionysus Collin.
“This horse is like the mother-in-law, he stays all day,” Moore joked. “He’s a Tavistock and they’re very late to mature. This race was perfect for him because once he got out of the straight he got into a real nice rhythm and De Sousa was pleased that he settled and he kept up a good gallop right to the line.
“I’ll send him back to Conghua, get some weight back on him and build his confidence again. He won’t be running for another five or six weeks.”
Dionysus Collin, a tad unlucky in the run, was a rare miss for Moreira when in tandem with trainer Francis Lui.
The jockey and trainer combo has a remarkable strike rate this season, and Moreira headed home with a tally of three wins from only five rides for the stable after Top Score landed section three of the Class 4 Jedburgh Handicap (1200m). The gelding had posted three solid efforts already this term, making the frame twice, and defied top-weight of 133lb this time to gain a deserved reward.
Lui nailed a double to take his tally this season to 15. The handler’s Golden Kid held on to win the Class 5 Kelso Handicap (1800m) under Alberto Sanna from the fast-finishing Romantic Journey and Moreira.
Section two of the Class 4 Jedburgh Handicap ((1200m) went to the Paul O’Sullivan-trained and Matthew Chadwick-ridden Mehboob (119lb), who held the Moreira-ridden King’s Trooper (130lb) by half a length.
Blake Shinn maintained his steady upturn with an accomplished win on the Caspar Fownes-trained Gunnar in section one of the Class 4 Jedburgh Handicap (1200m). The Australian clicked his third win in as many meetings and his sixth overall.
Neil Callan arrowed Gouten Of Garo to the front from gate three and vied for the lead before drawing clear down the home straight in the opener, the Class 5 Hawick Handicap (1000m). The Irishman kept the David Ferraris-trained six-year-old honest right to the line before rising in the irons to salute the gelding’s first win at start 25. The success was Callan’s fifth this term, Ferraris’ seventh, and the second for the combo.
A ripping finish to the Class 3 Glasgow Handicap (1800m) saw the Tony Cruz-trained Stimulation edge a blanket finish under Vincent Ho. The Deep impact five-year-old – another ‘Conghua horse’ – prevailed by a short-head with a half-length covering the first six.
The finale, the Class 3 Elgin Handicap (1200m), went to the Tony Millard-trained Meridian Genius (119lb), a cosy half-length winner under Chad Schofield from the recalcitrant Highly Proactive (124lb). It was the first time trainer and jockey had combined for a win since Elusive State scored at Sha Tin on 18 November, 2018.