O'Sullivan gives homeward-bound Winks a Spectacular leaving gift
Paul O'Sullivan may well have given jockey James Winks his going away present yesterday as debutant Spectacular Award kicked off an early double for the New Zealand trainer.
Winks was released from his club jockey contract on Friday afternoon, with the Australian rider making the decision to take his leave after battling with his weight and a lack of proper opportunities.
He will finish next Sunday, taking with him the highlight of a surprise Group One win last season on John Moore's sprinter Dim Sum, but he took the parting chance from O'Sullivan on Spectacular Award at odds of better than 20-1 in what the trainer described as 'a pleasant surprise'.
'He's out of a mare whose career peaked at a distance of about 3,500m with 15 fences in front of her, so to see this horse win at 1,200m is a bit of a surprise. But I think he will be OK with time and as he gets over longer,' O'Sullivan said. 'It's really a 2,400m pedigree and as we often see, a horse here who can stay will probably do a bit better in this environment than you might otherwise expect.'
The win for owner Wong Pak-lam turned back the clock for O'Sullivan as he was one of the first owners he met upon moving to Sha Tin.
'He's been here since day one - I trained Award for him and he was nearly the first horse in the stable, so it's nice to have another horse for Mr Wong that looks like he'll do all right,' O'Sullivan said.
The trainer's second winner, Rain Of Thunder, turned up 30 minutes later and looked a horse transformed by his experiences - not all of them good - at Happy Valley recently.
'He's been crying to come back to the bigger track here,' said jockey Douglas Whyte.
'But going to the Valley for those few runs has toughened him up and given him some race experience.
'He's been a bit wayward in his head, the penny has probably dropped with him a year later than it would with most horses, but he's won with some purpose today and I can see myself getting back on him when he goes to Class Four next time. I think he's ready for that now.'
It was the maiden win at start 14 for the five-year-old son of Rock Of Gibraltar but he hasn't been overly raced to this point.
And the three-length margin also raised the spirit of hope in O'Sullivan, who agreed that a spell of racing and doing it hard at times at Happy Valley had brought the low-grade stayer on.
'We have actually wanted to bring him back here for a while, but the programme just didn't give us the opportunity,' he said.
'But it seems to have had a good effect on him as a racehorse.
'In the past, he's been a bit weak when things got difficult but Douglas said he was able to nudge one out of the way today.
'That wouldn't have happened before so perhaps, with a light weight going up a grade, he'll still be a chance in Class Four,' O'Sullivan said.