Youngster strikes a blow for apprentice
GRIFFIN Chop-Chop (4-1) struck a blow for this season's newcomers with a fighting win in open company in the seventh event at Sha Tin yesterday.
Chop-Chop had been promoted to Class Three after two good wins in restricted griffin races and was facing an interesting test in this 1,400-metre race where trainer Wong Tang-ping placed his faith in long-serving stable apprentice, Vicki C. W. Choi.
The confidence was not misplaced as Choi rode a perfect race on the three-year-old American-bred gelding but had to wear down 40-1 chance Highland Laddie in a tense battle to the line before claiming victory.
Highland Laddie was partnered by claimer Win Chung Lai-fong who must be the most improved apprentice currently riding.
She has posted several good winners this season and came desperately close with the David Oughton-trained runner-up.
Obviously, the tight finish had much to do with the fact that Chop-Chop had to concede 20 pounds to the runner-up and it is against this that the youngster's win is best measured.
It was Choi's second winner of the season and his 41st career victory.
He is a perfectly capable rider who does not seem to get that many chances on horses that can win but he has certainly been an asset to Wong over the years.
Choi was beaming as he left the weighing room just before the final event and said: 'My boss was sure the horse could run very well and that we could win. He has been very patient with Chop-Chop since his last win.
'There might have been some people worried about the distance because he had won two races over 1,000 metres. But it was all right and he ran very well. I am happy to have got this winner.' In fact, Chop-Chop is certainly bred to get 1,400 metres and longer, being by the American sire Star De Naskra among whose Hong Kong progeny is former Queen Elizabeth II winner and Derby-placed Star Mark.
Chop-Chop was running easily in fourth in the early stages but Highland Laddie was travelling very well up front for Win, whose mounts just seem to relish her handling. They invariably run along well for her and Highland Laddie, who has had his own ideas over the seasons, was no exception.
Highland Laddie kicked for home soon after straightening and Choi produced Chop-Chop moments later. The crowd saw a thrilling finish, with Highland Laddie refusing to give in and Chop-Chop desperately trying to get his measure.
He did so in the final 50 metres and can clearly go on from this.
The flop of the race was the David Hayes-trained Good Fortune (3-1 favourite) who could not go the early pace but came through only fairly in the straight and was never a threat.
The horse had looked unlucky at Happy Valley at his last start but was tackling stronger company here.