The longest running drought in Hong Kong racing is over.
It had been more than 900 days between drinks for jockey Alex Lai Hoi-wing, but he was able to break through for a winner at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The 35-year-old missed all of last season due to a wrist complaint and had barely fired a shot this term but he enjoyed a change of fortune on the Sha Tin dirt thanks to trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak’s unlikely galloper Mongolian Legend.
Making the turn with a clear passage to the winning post, Lai said he could not help but get excited at the prospect of winning for the first time sine May 10, 2017.
“From the turn I only saw three or four around me so I thought I could catch them,” Lai said with a grin. “I got a little bit excited when I saw it happening because it was such a long time ago.
“The horse always comes from behind and I knew he improved on the dirt.”
Lai’s last winner came on the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Happy Life at Happy Valley.
“Of course it feels good having a winner again,” he laughed. “My last one was a long time ago now, from Francis it was, almost three years now.
“Me Tsui is very fair, he always tries very hard to get me a good ride and he did today so I am thankful.”
Lai has ridden just one horse with single-figure odds this season as part of his 76 rides and Mongolian Legend was no exception to that, going around friendless in the betting at $25.
With a damaged wrist, Lai was unable to ride any horses during his time off, with any fitness consisting of mainly swimming.
“Because I hurt my wrist, I couldn’t do too much, I could only swim so I kept watching the races,” he said.
It was almost a double breakthrough on the day with the luckless Lyle Hewitson looming up on the John Moore-trained Monica in the last race of the day but was forced to settle for second in the end.
It leaves the young South African as the only jockey without a winner this season.
Bargain buy is Simply The Best
Unwanted yearling Simply The Best surely had a few bloodstock agents thinking what might have been on Saturday.
The Danny Shum Chap-shing galloper went under the hammer for just A$2,000 (HK$10,700) at a Magic Millions yearling sale in 2017 but pocketed HK$551,190 for connections just two years later after he easily won on debut in the Class Four Panashop Handicap (1,200m) at Sha Tin.
Unfortunately for his Hong Kong connections, Simply The Best would not have come to them that cheap.
Named War Halo in Australia, he completed one very smart barrier trial under trainer Gerald Ryan at Rosehill before being sold to Hong Kong for what no doubt was significantly more than what he originally went under the hammer for.
For Shum however, the price doesn’t matter. The premiership-leading trainer has a war chest of untapped young horses and has shown no signs of slowing up his early season form.
“He trialled good but I didn’t expect him to win by so far to be honest,” Shum said. “I thought he would go in with a chance today from his few trials and the draw.”
However, with his win coming in a restricted three-year-old race, Shum is keeping a lid on things for the time being, despite the five-length margin.
“He is a nice horse for sure, he does everything right, he jumped good, he enjoyed the pace but has a good turn of foot. I think he can go to Class Three,” he said.
“He has run really well but I don’t think it was a strong field, they are only three-year-olds so we will see how he goes.”
imply The Best was not the only bargain buy to win on the day with the David Ferraris-trained Blastoise also saluting thanks to a perfect Zac Purton ride.
The lightly-raced four-year-old was bought from the Adelaide Magic Millions sale for just A$25,000 (HK$134,000) before being moved to Hong Kong.
Pokemon steal the show
The connections of Blastoise obviously came to Sha Tin with confidence on Saturday.
Not long after Purton had crossed the line on the gelding, fluffy toys were produced by the owners and their children resembling the Pokemon star.
Ferraris has a long history with the family and a stable full of horses named after Pokemon.
He currently has Charizard and Snorlax to complement Blastoise while he had Pikachu and Raichu before they were retired last season.
It’s different syndicates that own them but they are all bought by one particular guy, [Mr Liu Shun-hong], and they are sold on from there. His kids name all of the horses,” Ferraris previously told the Post.
The Prince is coming to HKIR
Gallant Melbourne Cup runner-up Prince Of Arran is the latest to commit to the Longines Hong Kong International Races after “complications” with the Japan Racing Association.
Trainer Charlie Fellowes confirmed the change of plan on Saturday afternoon, saying the Japan Cup is no longer an option because of an issue over gear.
“No barrier blankets allowed in Japan. Sadly [Prince Of Arran] is a danger to himself and other horses without one on,” Fellowes tweeted. “Instead he heads to Hong Kong for the Vase.”
Prince Of Arran ran eighth in the 2,400m Group One last year after placing in the Melbourne Cup, but the English trainer is hoping for a better draw this time around after jumping from gate 14.
“Planning on flying my wife Vikki out to do the draw this year after my awful effort in 2018,” Fellowes tweeted.
Meanwhile, Irish trainer Willie Mullins said talented mare True Self is another likely to make the trip to Sha Tin after winning the Group Two Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2,600m) at Flemington on Saturday.
“Hopefully she’ll come out of the race sound and well and I think someone said we might be a chance to get invited to Hong Kong, which would be great,” Mullins said.
Stomach puts So out of action
Local jockey Ben So Tik-hung was forced to forgo his rides at Saturday’s meeting after being hospitalised with a stomach complaint.
The 32-year-old, who collected his first win of the season a week-and-a-half ago, had to miss four mounts but none of them finished in the placings.
So is unavailable to ride at Wednesday’s Happy Valley card while a further announcement about coming meetings will be made later in the week.
Speaking of jockeys unavailable to ride – Karis Teetan, Grant van Niekerk and Derek Leung Ka-chun were all hit with two-day careless riding suspensions on Saturday.
Van Niekerk was outed for his effort on Falcon Turbo and hit with a HK$30,000 fine, Leung
punished for his winning ride on Super Junior while Teetan was slugged for his performance on Coby Oppa.