Long wait is over: Chinook and Freebird get it right this time
It's amazing they both won on the same night like that, says Derek Cruz
Every dog has his day, or night, and two of Hong Kong racing's most enduring losers managed not only to enjoy their night in the spotlight on the same card at Happy Valley but Chinook and Freebird did it in back to back races.
The David Ferraris-trained Chinook and the Derek Cruz-trained Freebird, had more than one thing in common as they finally broke their maiden status, with South African jockey Anthony Delpech aboard each of them as they led throughout to finally experience a win.
For Chinook, it had been 46 starts since his Hong Kong debut on International Races day 2002 under retired trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee, when the gelding finished last in a Premier Class race to begin a downward spiral which would have seen him eligible for Class Five in one or two more unplaced runs.
'I thought he might have had a job from the wide gate but he got over OK,' said Ferraris. 'His runs have been quite good up on the pace lately so the plan was to go forward and hope for the best with the light weight.'
When Delpech produced a similar display on Freebird 30 minutes later, trainer Derek Cruz was ecstatic - or maybe simply didn't believe that, after 48 starts including seven seconds and eight thirds, it could happen - when Freebird defied the late finish of Danehill Warrior in the seventh.
'It's amazing they both won on the same night like that - and Freebird was two starts in front of Chinook,' Cruz laughed. 'His owner will be so happy - he's been very patient in the circumstances and never lost hope that Freebird would win one.'
There was a certain symmetry to the event too, as Freebird made his debut three years before, to the day, finishing sixth in a Class One at Sha Tin on June 7, 2003, before ultimately finding his way to last night's Class Three win.
While Delpech was familiar with Chinook's traits beforehand, he was making his debut aboard Freebird, who has been frequently erratic in the past and didn't let him down in that regard.
'He tried to run off with me on all the turns and frankly I wasn't confident about him making it around the final bend,' Delpech said.
'But Chris Munce's horse, Visionnaire came around and moved outside him and that made the difference - it forced him to go around the turn. Once we were in the straight, I didn't even think about the whip. I've seen enough of Freebird to know it wasn't going to help so I just screamed my lungs out at him.'
While the Me Tsui Yu-sak-trained Fortune Boy (Glyn Schofield) had a more respectable winline of three from 35, he wasn't winning out of turn in the Hong Kong Exchanges Challenge Cup (1,650 metres).
May last year was the gelding's last time in the winner's circle, when the circumstances and the jockey were the same.
It was part of a double for Tsui, who also landed the opener with On Shan Express (Douglas Whyte).
The Caspar Fownes-trained Noble Conqueror (Brett Prebble) won the award for the most promising, and the most nervous, horse of the night winning race four after going to pieces in the parade.
'He just isn't there mentally but has plenty of ability,' said Prebble.
'He must have lost five or six kilos just in sweat before the race so he did well to win.'
Stewards adjourned an inquiry into some wild and wonderful tactics employed by junior riders in the seventh race, which may still have ramifications, but managed to hand Thomas Yeung Kai-tong a three-day ban for careless riding on Wisdom Express.