A thriller wrapped up proceedings at Happy Valley’s season opener tonight, Wednesday, 5 September, as Super Hoppy (117lb) rattled to a flashing short-head victory in the Class 2 Big Wave Bay Handicap (1200m) under Chad Schofield.
Trainer Danny Shum was happy to see his smart five-year-old overhaul race favourite Fortune Booth (127lb) in the final stride and land a third Hong Kong win at start eight. And it came on a night when this season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge had lift-off.
That contest awards points to the first four finishers in all Happy Valley races of Class 3 standard and above, though to its finale on 13 February. Shum-trained horses have carried off two of the last three winning cheques in the HK$1 million competition – Charity Glory last term and Speedy Longwah in 2015/16.
Super Hoppy, though, is not necessarily Shum’s idea of a Million Challenge victor.
“He ran really good, actually I think he can win again, but the Million Challenge will be difficult because he’s rated 82. There are not many races to carry him through – I’d have to target every Class 2 race,” he explained.
“If I have the right horse, I’ll always target the Million Challenge, but you need to have a horse rated 60-something. Caspar’s horse has it much easier – he has more races to choose from.”
Sky Melody is “Caspar’s horse”. The Fownes-trained galloper took the second of the night’s three Million Challenge heats, and the unexposed five-year-old did so in the style that his even-money odds suggested he would.
Zac Purton guided the 65-rated High Chaparral gelding to a length and three-quarter success in the Class 3 Deep Water Bay Handicap (1650m), the manner of which augured well for future conquests around the city track.
The Ricky Yiu-trained Eagle, 2.7 favourite under 10lb claimer Victor Wong, sealed the maximum 15 points in the Challenge’s opening contest – race six on the evening’s card – the Class 3 Chung Hom Kok Handicap (1200m). The competition awards six points for second place, four for third and three for placing fourth.
There was a historic “first” in the night’s third event, the Class 4 Middle Bay Handicap (1000m), when Most Beautiful earned the distinction of being the first horse to win a race after being prepared at the Jockey Club’s newly-opened Conghua Racecourse in Guangdong Province, China.
Shum’s 16/1 chance had failed to win in 26 prior Hong Kong starts but rattled home with a deep-closing mid-track run under 5lb claimer Dylan Mo.
Ting does it again
Not content with taking out the season opener at Sha Tin on Sunday with his first career runner, freshman handler Jimmy Ting repeated the trick this evening when making a triumphant Happy Valley debut.
Ting was beaming after Le Pegase (112lb) landed the campaign curtain-raiser at the downtown venue, the six-year-old saluting at odds of 3.8 in the 1650m Class 5 under 5lb claimer Matthew Poon.
“I expected that,” Ting said after the bottom-weight had stalked the pace-setting My Blessing (120lb) into the straight and then kicked on to register a fairly comfortable win. “If everything went right and he ran his race, I thought he’d win. I asked the jockey to jump quickly from the gate and try to lead, or if someone else took him on, just sit second and then at the bend let him go. Matthew did a good job.”
The new handler took his career return at that juncture to three wins from five starters following a first day double at the big track last weekend.
“At this stage my horses need to at least be in racing form to run, and, if they’re not ready, I’ll wait a little bit. So my plan was to try to make a quick start if the horses were ready,” he said.
Jockey Derek Leung and trainer Me Tsui teamed up to win the second race with 24/1 chance Noble De Boy.
Vincent Ho delivered the Francis Lui-trained Universal Go Go, a 12/1 shot, to snag the fourth contest in the last stride, while Matthew Chadwick cajoled the Peter Ho-trained Association Fans to victory in race five at odds of 21/1.