Vincent Ho Chak-yiu is confident he is ready to get the absolute best out of excitement machine Dream Winner at Sha Tin on Sunday, but the star jockey admits it is going to be some time until he is performing at the peak of his own powers.
Sidelined for the start of the campaign after fracturing his T5 vertebra in a nasty fall in Japan in July, Ho returns this weekend happy enough with his fitness but realistic about his early-season capabilities.
“I’m feeling confident. The first two days back riding I still had some doubts, but the past few days I’ve felt completely fine and got my confidence back that I won’t feel pain on a horse,” said Ho, who returned to trackwork last weekend before riding in trials on Tuesday and Friday.
“I’m slowly getting there, but it’s going to take months to be 100 per cent again in terms of my form, weight and everything.
“I won’t ride as much as before for the first month or so. On race day, you won’t see me have a full book. I’ll take it slowly and pick the quality rides.
“I’ll slowly build myself up and back into form again, which will need time. It was a massive fall and a serious injury to the spine. It’s better to be cautious.
“After stopping for six weeks, it’s going to take time to build up my muscles and lose some fat. Of course, the injury is still not 100 per cent, and some workouts I can’t do, so I have to do something else to compensate.”
There was a time when Ho thought he could be sidelined for three months, but some expert advice and carefully planned rehabilitation ensured he only missed two Hong Kong meetings.
While last term saw Ho reel off 96 wins and finish runner-up to the all-conquering Zac Purton in the premiership, his injuries and slowly, slowly approach mean he is unlikely to reach those heights again in 2023-24.
However, he could not be much better placed to return a winner this weekend, with Dream Winner and fellow progressive type Joyful Hunter among his four-strong book of rides that makes up for its lack of quantity with some serious quality.
“He’s got nice potential, a big baby,” Ho said of the undefeated Dream Winner. “He’s still got plenty to learn but has definitely got potential. I galloped him [on Thursday], and he felt nice. Let’s see how he goes on Sunday – his first race of the season after a break.
“He’s still mentally a bit immature, but I think he’s fine. We’ll see how much he’s improved this season. He’s still a baby and still got a lot to learn, so let’s see how quickly he can do that.”
While Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Dream Winner bids to make it four wins from as many starts in Sunday’s feature, the Class Two Causeway Bay Handicap (1,000m), the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Joyful Hunter shoots for three from three in the Class Three Admiralty Handicap (1,200m) – his first run at Sha Tin.
“Actually, he takes time to pick up, so he’s better at Sha Tin with the longer straight,” said Ho, who pilots Joyful Hunter from gate five.
“He’s a good horse and he can go further in distance in the future. He’s four, so we’ll see how he goes. Hopefully, he can run in the Classic Series.”
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