Leung lights it up with sparkling treble
Derek Leung Ka-chun reminded us that there is more than one star apprentice in town with a sparkling three-timer at Sha Tin on an afternoon which might well have been horse racing's version of Chinese National day.
Local riders completely swamped their higher-profile expatriate rivals, winning eight of the 10 races and landing 17 of the 30 possible placings. It took until race nine for Douglas Whyte on Special Days to strike a blow for the westerners and Eric Saint-Martin followed up with an easy victory on Clement Elite in the last.
While the Chinese hammered the expats on an 8-2 scoreline, 20-year-old Leung overwhelmed his Chinese brothers with a sparkling treble that also earned his supporters an early payout on the Jockey Challenge, where he was best price $25.
There were strong parallels to the Matthew Chadwick Jockey Challenge victory at Sha Tin six days earlier, with 18-year-old Chadwick racking up a hat-trick in races five, six and seven, while Leung went close to that feat by registering wins on Splendid Sails (race four), Circuit Hero (race five) and Best Power (race seven).
It was Leung's second Jockey Challenge, having taken his maiden gong at a midweek Happy Valley meeting on January 7, with victories on Nasa Pearl and Luminous for his allocated trainer Paul O'Sullivan.
'I am very happy with this result today, because I really want to remain competitive with Matthew,' Leung said, in reference to the leading junior rider. 'My first goal is to hit 20 winners for the season and today's three wins will take me to 16.
'I started out earlier than Matthew, so I didn't want him getting too far away from me,' he added. The story behind Leung's first winner Splendid Sails was a fairly simple one, according to the apprentice, with an in-form horse taking the class drop to be back among the cellar dwellers in Class Five.
'I thought he had quite a good chance, as long as we had a bit of luck, and I think he probably appreciated my 10-pound claim as well,' Leung said.
It was a similar story with his second winner, the Tony Millard-trained Circuit Hero, who backed up well off an unlucky run last week in Class Three and also enjoyed the softer competition of Class Four while Leung's claim offset most of the weight increase.
Millard revealed in a post-race interview that a number of horses in his yard have been suffering from a virus, but the South African predicted a strong late-season rally from the team after their mid-term hiatus.
'With a number of the horses feeling the effects of the virus, there was no point going on with them,' Millard said.
'We had to look after those horses and give them some quiet time to get over it, and they are only just coming to hand now.
'I think you'll see quite a strong showing from us over the last few months of the season.'
The surprise packet, from Leung's point of view, came from the strong performance of Best Power, who also completed a double for Splendid Sails' handler Manfred Man Ka-leung.
'Best Power was the bonus - beyond my expectation,' Leung said. 'It seems to me that he got a lot of things working for him all at the same time - a light weight, a suitable pacing, an inside draw and he quite enjoyed the [good-to-yielding] ground.'
Top of his game
Wins Derek Leung has landed this term, and his three-timer yesterday earned him his second Challenge honours: 16