'I told Craig just to ride him hands and heels'
Peter Ng Bik-kuen led the way with a double as some of Hong Kong's more unsung players took centre stage at Happy Valley last night. Ng, who had only two winners to his name at the turn of the year, doubled his score as Win It All landed a cosy win in the second race and Guscott survived an objection to take the sixth.
Guscott has been the main force in Ng's stable this season and he scored a second successive win under Craig Williams in an incident-packed 1,650-metre event. The Australian rider, signing off with his third winner as he starts a three-meeting suspension for careless riding, brought Guscott home by a neck from American Champion, with Harmony Prince 1.25 lengths back in third.
Harmony Prince's jockey, Douglas Whyte, lodged an objection to the first two horses, who had squeezed his mount at the 200-metre mark, but the stewards overruled the objection.
Williams has forged a successful partnership with Guscott, having also finished a head runner-up on the six-year-old as well as those two wins, and Ng joked: 'Guscott was just waiting for Craig to arrive in Hong Kong.'
The trainer added that there was a reason for the horse's good form. 'I told Craig not to use the whip, just to ride him hands and heels. That's what this horse responds to, and I reminded Craig of that again tonight before he went out to ride.'
Ng's night had got off to the perfect start when Win It All came with a determined run in the straight to beat Dragon Win by a length. John Egan's mount looked set to win comfortably at the 200-metre mark but Dragon Win, who had been on the pace all the way, would not give in without a fight, and it was only close home that Win It All surged clear.
Egan had less luck in the fourth race on Ng's Lead To Win, who was in the dreaded barrier 12 in the 1,650-metre event. With such a short run to the first turn, Egan had no chance to get cover and he raced wide virtually the whole way as championship leader Douglas Whyte made the running on Empire Court, who himself had been drawn 11.
The difference is that Empire Court is at his best when up on the pace and Whyte was able to dictate matters from the front. With no challengers for the lead, Whyte was able to conserve his mount's energy for the final run, and Empire Court stayed on well to hold off the late run of Lead To Win by half a length. The victory moved Whyte to 32 winners, eight clear of Weichong Marwing.
Lead To Win's defeat left Ng reflecting ruefully: 'I am pleased to have two winners, but it could have been three if Lead To Win hadn't been drawn 12. He was kept wide all the way.'
Chris Cheung Ting-pong - bottom of the standings at the start of the night, one below Ng - finally broke his duck for the season when Cheetah ran away with the first race under Steven King. Cheung, who had sent out 53 runners without success, was among those who received a letter from the Jockey Club just before Christmas warning them to improve their performances or face the loss of their licence.
Cheung still has a long way to go to reach the Club's benchmark figure of 12 winners for the season, but his team had been showing good signs recently, with Hero's Way an unlucky runner-up at Sha Tin on New Year's Day.
Cheetah's victory was hardly a surprise. The four-year-old, who had posted some good times at trackwork, had finished second on his previous start more than two months ago and he showed the benefit of the break as he scored a clear-cut win.
King always had Cheetah well placed and he shot clear in the straight to score by 3.25 lengths from the fast-finishing Refreshingly, with Saint Tak a somewhat unlucky third after failing to find room early in the straight.
Another trainer in double form was Wong Tang-ping. Having scored with Empire Court, he followed up in the fifth race with One Step Ahead, who stormed home under Corey Brown to snatch the spoils by a head from Easy King. The win moved Brown on to nine winners, and the Australian is another who is out to impress the Club after missing out on an extension to his stint.
Derek Cruz was also a slow starter this season, but he has hit top gear and moved into double figures when Arabica took the third event under Howard Y. T. Cheng. Arabica made it five for Cruz in the past two weeks as he swooped to overhaul Wavy Wave and score by 1.25 lengths.
Cheng went on to land a double when he took the January Cup on the David Oughton-trained Commander Charlie. The former Derby runner-up scored his first win of the season by 2.5 lengths from the Cruz-trained Sweetheart, with Momentum third.