It may be a bread and butter Class 4 handicap but the Craigengower Cricket Club Challenge Cup (1200m) was the feature at Happy Valley on Wednesday night and for the second year running Navas (133lb) carried off the trophy, along with the HK$524,400 first prize purse.
Last season the Richard Gibson-trained gelding scored by a short-head under apprentice Dylan Mo; this time it was even tighter, Zac Purton driving him to a thrilling nose verdict over Dollar Reward (122lb) with another nose to third-placed Jolly Bountiful (131lb).
“You don’t get tighter than that, do you? That’s the difference the champion jockey makes,” Gibson said.
The six-year-old’s victory sealed a double for Purton, the Australian having taken race two by a head on the Michael Chang-trained Show Mission.
“When you don’t have much in hand they’re always going to be tight – they always are here at the Valley. On both horses, I just got the right run when I needed it and that counted,” Purton said.
“Class 3 is just a bit strong for Navas,” he continued. “It’s not easy in Class 4 either because he’s got to carry the big weights but he just needs the right type of run and when he gets it he can deliver.”
Chang, meanwhile, had used Purton’s services only once this season before he got the leg up on Show Mission this evening – that was aboard Saul’s Special back on 10 October, and that resulted in a victory too.
“Maybe he saves the best ones for me!” the rider said.
Three for Shum
Danny Shum ended the night with a treble. It started when he and Karis Teetan teamed up for a double early on the card. Clement Legend was the 1.8 favourite to win the 2200m opener and he did just that, but the margin was fine: Teetan had to drive hard to deliver the gelding right on the line to edge a three-way finish by a head, and so seal the combination’s fourth win on the bounce.
Trainer and jockey combined again in the third with Clear Choice taking the 1650m Class 4 by a length. Shum observed that the five-year-old had benefitted from a refreshing few weeks at Conghua.
Clear Choice under Karis Teetan helps Danny Shum to a treble.
“The change of environment helped the horse, he put on weight and I was confident he was a good each-way chance,” the handler said.
The three-timer arrived when Star Of Joy, galvanized down the stretch under Grant van Niekerk, ran down the Purton-ridden Powermax to score by a neck in race seven.
That brought up a double for Van Niekerk, too. The South African was earlier aboard the Tony Millard-trained C P Power, who nicked a first Happy Valley win at his sixth start at the track in race four.
Francis Lui edged to within one of his 600th career win when 35/1 shot Warm The Voice won the last, the Class 3 Sports Road Handicap (1650m) under Vincent Ho. The four-year-old was third to subsequent G1 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior as a juvenile in Ireland but showed little in his first four Hong Kong starts.
Lui sensed a corner was being turned, however, when the Vocalised gelding ran sixth at Happy Valley on Boxing Day.
“He had good form as a young horse but he’s taken a long time to acclimatise here. At Sha Tin he was just giving up in the straight so we came to Happy Valley and put the blinkers on last time and you could see that he was chasing.
“He looks like he’ll stay farther but for now we’ll keep him to this distance. Maybe we can get more points and go to the Derby!” he added with a wry smile.
Joao Moreira was smiling two races earlier after Gamechangers broke his Hong Kong maiden at start 16 in the Class 3 Wong Nai Chung Handicap (1200m). The John Size-trained 3.3 favourite rattled past Seven Heavens and held runner-up Waldorf by a short-head.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday, 20 January with a G1 double-header featuring the Stewards’ Cup (1600m) and the Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m).