With two horses breaking down, club's Halloween bash turns tragic
The sad irony of it may have been lost on those at the Jockey Club's marketing department who came up with the 'Phantom Of The Races' theme for last night's Halloween meeting at Happy Valley, but the story played out in tragically eerie fashion with two horses breaking down in running and another favourite scratched after being trapped under the gates.
The plot of the Gaston Leroux novel, The Phantom Of The Opera, from which the modern musical was adapted and the night's theme was taken, was the story of a mysterious ghost under the Paris Opera House, who wrought chaos and destruction on the opera when displeased.
The phantom promised catastrophe to the opera unless he was permanently reserved a private box at the shows and paid a monthly stipend. As last night rolled on, it became clear that someone at the Jockey Club forgot to hand over this month.
Solar Empire was leading at the 450m mark when he broke down and abruptly ducked right, taking Wealthy Treasure, That's It (Brett Prebble) and Victory Start (Anthony Delpech) out of the race with him and Delpech was lucky to stay in the saddle.
For Telecom Owner, the end came turning into the back straight in his race when without warning the three-year-old broke down badly and fell back sharply on the runners behind him, notably Prebble's mount Wonderful Blessing. But the Australian's reflexes were finely tuned after the earlier incident and he remarkably whipped out around Telecom Owner with his mount barely even breaking stride.
The third incident saw the Caspar Fownes-trained Brilliant Flash contesting favouritism in the betting for race six when he got down and caught under the gates seconds before the race was due to jump, which forced his withdrawal.
'He's only got a few cuts and scratches, though we'll know more tomorrow when he's cooled down,' said Fownes, who nevertheless managed a double on the card with Viva Fighter and Hold Hands, both ridden by Jacky Tong Chi-kit.
'Viva Fighter was probably a bit lucky in the third with all that happened up the front but it was nice to win one with him. He's had problems with the turns in the past but with a good draw and the slower tempo over the mile, he didn't have a problem getting around tonight.'
John Moore, absent in London on a horse-buying expedition, managed to get the night's shortest-priced winner with Dim Sum in the Community Chest Cup feature, but jockey Darren Beadman was counting his blessings at the draw.
'I'm pleased we had barrier one, that's all I can say,' was his summary after Dim Sum scored won by just over a length after all the favours went his way.
'He might have been flattened by the big run last time from a wide barrier but he certainly didn't have anything in reserve tonight. Still, give him his due, he isn't a very big horse and he did win with a big weight. He tries very hard.'
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fie was able to farewell the ageing sprinter-miler Solar (Zac Purton) in happy circumstances last night, winning the fifth before declaring the gelding's racing days over.
'He was definitely the most experienced horse in the field,' said a smiling Yiu after Purton gave the old gelding a perfect trip to outgun Wonderful Blessing in race five.
'He's been looking for a fast pace and an inside draw and he got both tonight so it's a good time for him to retire as a winner and go to a better life. I bought this horse for the owner at the Jockey Club sale in 2001 and he has had other trainers but it's nice that he has come back to win his last race with me.'
Not as happy was jockey Olivier Doleuze, who incurred the wrath of stewards and received a two-day ban and HK$20,000 fine for his ride on Shining Dragon in the early stages of the opening race.