'They obviously didn't think my boy could do it, but he's a really good kid'
TALENTED apprentice Vickie Choi needed no second bidding when given the opportunity of the season by his retaining trainer Wong Tang-ping at last night's special Martell Grand National card at Sha Tin. Choi came in for the choice mount on Derby third, Pine Fame, in the feature L'Or de Martell Cup after visiting Club Jockey Eric Saint-Martin preferred to stick with original booking China Cruise and Darryll Holland was claimed to ride Heavily Armed by his trainer Geoff Lane.
And the three-pound claimer acquitted himself like an experienced senior jockey as he brought home the improving Pine Fame 21/2 lengths to the good of the classy Helene Star with Quick Action the same distance back in third. The major surprise was the starting price of 17-1 about the English import who has done nothing but progress since arriving with top two-year-old form to his name. 'They obviously didn't think my boy could do it, but he's a really good kid,' smiled Wong as he went to greet his winner.
Wong himself deserves plenty of credit for the way he has handled Pine Fame who is so sparely made that he could easily have gone the wrong way. But Wong has somehow managed to square the circle with the son of Lugana Beach, not only putting condition on him but racing him fairly regularly and backing him up from last month's Derby to take this $1.6 million event. 'He's such a lovely, well balanced individual that I was very confident at the start of the season that he would have a good year if I could handle him properly,' added the modest Wong who shares top billing as the leading local handler with Tony P. H. Chan on 20 winners.
For Choi it was win number 42 of his career and his sixth of the season. He needs eight more to outride his claim. Chan was on the mark himself last night as Golden Gamble made it back-to-back Class Six events by taking the third event. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and troubled trainer Patrick Biancone did just that last night. With a drugs cloud hanging over his yard, he still went out and saddled a double via Xanthus in the opening local riders' event and Double Expresso in the concluding contest.
He also saddled up Helene Star for second in the big race and Well Done for second in the sixth. 'I've always said the answer would be on the racecourse,' said Biancone whose eight runners last night all had to pass special tests just to be allowed to be declared and then the normal pre-race tests. Xanthus was ridden perfectly by Simon Yim in the first to run down Free Runner who has improved for Ricky Yiu. Double Expresso caught long-time leader Guts in the final event on a night when racing on the pace and on the fence was a decided advantage.
Biancone is back to two clear in the race for training honours. Saint-Martin who pulled the wrong rein in the big race, and was given a nasty fall from the recalcitrant The Lobbos prior to the second, bounced back to take the sixth on Green Maple. Supreme Monarch took the seventh to continue Alex Wong Yu-on's good season.