Three prizes in one as Nugget Warrior scores narrow win over Merry Way
If ever a centimetre was a long way in racing, it was the Kwai Chung Handicap last night at Happy Valley as a breath separated the first two placegetters and decided the race, the Jockey Challenge and perhaps even the CSL Million Challenge when it is done and dusted.
'There should be a time limit and then they call it a dead heat,' quipped beaten trainer David Hall after the judge finally decided a nose in favour of the Caspar Fownes-trained Nugget Warrior over Hall's Merry Way. 'I don't think I've ever had to wait as long to run second!'
For Nugget Warrior (Keith Yeung Ming-lun), the winning margin was enough to take him onto 44 points for the Million Challenge, just one point behind stablemate and leader Super Satin, who has the Derby as his focus now and is unlikely to run again in the five-month series at Happy Valley, whereas there are still opportunities for Nugget Warrior to add to his tally.
Yeung's victory on Nugget Warrior, added to his earlier win on Just Chill, saw him tie with hot favourite Brett Prebble for the Jockey Challenge honours but Yeung was the winner on a countback as he had ridden two winners and Prebble two seconds and a winner.
Prebble's lone win on a night that began full of promise was Happy Seven in the Rotary Centenary Challenge Cup, making it three on end for the Manfred Man Ka-leung-trained four-year-old but the first win at Happy Valley.
'To be honest, I think he's a lot more comfortable on the bigger track at Sha Tin,' Prebble said after the short-odds favourite scrambled in a by a narrow margin.
'He wobbled around here tonight and if he hadn't had the fence all the way, I don't know how he would have handled it but he is tough, he's a trier and he's got a picket fence next to his name now which is pretty hard to do here. Get him back to Sha Tin next time with a light weight in Class Two, you never know, he might be able to win again.'
With Paul O'Sullivan, like Fownes absent at the New Zealand sales, it was left to the trainer's suspended apprentice rider, Derek Leung Ka-chun, to give rider Zac Purton the leg-up that mattered before Soviet Pearl won the final event.
'Just before I got on, Derek said to watch out because Soviet Pearl can overrace,' Purton said after bringing the four-year-old from the rear to win impressively at his first ride on the gelding.
'So I switched him off out the back and probably the difference tonight for him was that there was a good tempo. He settled well and enjoyed the pace. He had just about been looking on his mark the last couple of runs but the way he went tonight, you'd have to say he'll be competitive in Class Two.'
It was a happy turn of fortune for Purton, who had recommended that trainer Peter Ng Bik-kuen use an apprentice on Just Chill after finishing third last time out and had to watch from the back of second-placed Par Excellence as Just Chill sailed past in the final stages of the third event for apprentice Yeung.
The Alex Wong Yu-on-trained Implied Volatility (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) had been looking for the right race lately and found it in the Tsuen Wan Handicap (1,650m) but Wong said he had been criticised for his choice of races lately for the gelding.
'Everybody wanted to tell me, 'The horse won at 1,200m, why don't you run at 1,200m?'
'But I knew he would run the mile and I think he will run further,' Wong said. 'If he gets a run, I'll start him next week again at 1,800m.'