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Alex Lai breaks winless drought after 301 days and 208 rides

The veteran jockey grabs his second winner of 2020 as he looks to build some momentum

Alex Lai Hoi-wing was forced to wait 301 days and 208 rides between winners but the jockey always saw light at the end of the tunnel and was finally rewarded with his first victory of the season at Sha Tin on Saturday.

Winners have come few and far between for Lai in 2020, with his success aboard Moon Peaks in the Class Five Wong Shek Handicap (1,200m) marking just his second of the calendar year, but the veteran was able to keep the faith throughout the deep run of outs.

Riding just five horses with single-figure odds in 2020, opportunities have been hard to come by for Lai, so he acknowledges the challenges that come with being a jockey in his position.

“It feels good, it is my first winner of the season,” he said. “There aren’t many rides but I don’t lose too much confidence because I just am trying to do my best. I have this winner now so maybe more winners will come.

“Last year was a hard time for me, this year is also a hard time, but I try my best. I have to maintain a good attitude and try my best. It is very difficult. You just have to keep working hard and hope for good rides.”

Lai was able to deliver a cool ride aboard Moon Peaks when it mattered to break the drought for both horse and jockey.

Prior to Saturday, the five-year-old was a 13-start maiden for trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak.

“I was lucky, we had a good draw and there wasn’t a lot speed inside so were able to get into a good spot,” Lai said.

For every Joao Moreira and Zac Purton in Hong Kong racing, there is a Lai who frequently finds themselves bumped off horses when they look ready to win.

Nothing demonstrates that better than Lai’s brief association with Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s Mighty Giant last season.

Lai rode the promising galloper in his first four starts for one victory before making way for Purton, who proceeded to reel off five consecutive wins.

“It is sometimes very hard [to stay motivated], you see sometimes I only have one or two rides and they are all at bad prices,” he said.

Lai’s victory leaves Jack Wong Ho-nam and Victor Wong Chun as the only winless jockeys left on the roster.

Hall’s Christmas comes late

David Hall landed a Christmas bonus at Sha Tin on Saturday when Flying Quest bobbed up at knockout odds, with the handler revealing retirement has been discussed for the eight-year-old.

Hall only entered Flying Quest into the Class Two Cheung Sheung Handicap (2,000m) at the last minute after seeing a small field nominated.

“The 2,000m was a little bit of a gamble, we put him in as a late entry,” he said. “I was sort of thinking about the big weight in Class Three and going back to Happy Valley but I thought a small field and a light weight – the best time to try a horse at 2,000m is under those circumstances and he’s got the miles in his legs and he’s super fit.

“We put him in and [Matthew Poon Ming-fai] was available, who knows him really well, and bingo, we’ve got a Merry Christmas.”

It was Flying Quest’s seventh win in 46 starts, but his first at Sha Tin. Hall said the veteran galloper had a knack of making retirement plans a problem for another day anytime they were brought up.

“All his wins have been at Happy Valley but I was never frightened to run him [at Sha Tin],” he said.

“He’s eight years old and we’ve discussed it many times about how long he’s going to keep going for.

“Because he’s been such a good horse to the owners they don’t really want to overtax him, but every time we threaten to do something like that he keeps running well. It’s the best form he’s been in for his whole career.”

Glorious result

Glorious Artist provided Frankie Lor Fu-chuen with his first overseas racing experience last year and the handler is hoping he can offer him his second after a dominant victory at Sha Tin on Saturday.

The dirt specialist rose to the occasion in the Class Two Chek Keng Handicap (1,650m) to put the Dubai World Cup on the agenda for Lor, on the proviso he can get invited.

The six-year-old bobbed up at huge odds at Happy Valley last start and proved it was no fluke when he returned to his favoured surface on Saturday, putting away the likes of Elusive State, Righteous Doctrine and Elite Patch.

“I think the rating is still not high enough but I don’t know if I can go to Dubai or not, we’re just waiting to see,” he said. “So the next time he runs should be on January 17 in a Class Two over 1,650m.”

Lor raced Glorious Artist in the Korea Cup (1,800m) last year, where he ran a credible fourth on the deep sand of Seoul racecourse.

Dubai cuts prize money

Prize money for Dubai’s mega-rich World Cup meeting will be cut due to Covid-19 but the purse for the main event will remain at US$12 million.

After being cancelled at the last minute earlier this year, March 27 has been locked in by the Dubai Racing Club for the 2021 edition.

Hong Kong frequently has runners on the night and has a host of possible runners this time around.

Popular undercard events such as the Group One Dubai Turf (1,800m), Golden Shaheen (1,200m, dirt) and Al Quoz Sprint (1,200m) have had US$1 million slashed off their prize money totals.

Speculation has long surrounded the meeting and whether it would go ahead following last year’s cancellation, but Saturday’s announcement provides clarity for connections.

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