Suborics makes most of his chance as Loyal Army sets up thrilling finale
Grand stable servant Loyal Army set up a thrilling finale to the CSL Happy Valley Million Challenge when he grabbed a clear lead last night with just one meeting to go.
The series for Class Three horses and above has run since September and concludes on February 24, but there are still several horses in the running despite Loyal Army's narrow victory to take a seven-point lead, and trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong confirmed that he will be running the tough gelding again.
'I actually think the horse will do well at Sha Tin as well - 1,400 metres with all the headgear taken off and I think he will be effective there, too,' said Yip after Andreas Suborics steered the five-year-old to his fifth win over the Valley 1200m. 'But the owner has been very keen to try to win the Million Challenge so Loyal Army has been doing all his racing here.'
Backing up from a defeat seven days earlier, Loyal Army was without his usual jockey Weichong Marwing, who had taken a ride elsewhere, unaware that Loyal Army would back up, and it gave Suborics a rare winning chance, which he grabbed with both hands.
Perhaps a little too aggressively for the stewards' liking, with the Austrian also earning himself a two-day ban for careless riding on Loyal Army.
Strawberry went to second place in the Million Challenge with the six points he gained for running second to Tony Cruz-trained Eastern Empire (Matthew Chadwick) in the sixth event, but he is just one of the dangers to Loyal Army on the final night.
Caspar Fownes confirmed that third-ranked Nugget Warrior will also contest a race on the final night of the Challenge and Almond Lee Yee-tat-trained Good Strike, third to Loyal Army last night, is still in the running if he can score a win on February 24.
Trainer Gary Ng Ting-keung declared his four-year-old mare Sweet Sanette (Greg Cheyne) a Group winner in waiting after she allayed any fears about handling turns with a course record-breaking victory in the final event over 1,000 metres.
The mare bounced straight to the front and never looked like being headed despite getting herself very stirred up before the race.
'I wasn't worried about her sweating up, that's just her,' said Ng after the two-and-a-quarter-length romp. 'In terms of talent, she's as good as they come and I believe she will be a Group horse here in Hong Kong. The only downside to her is that she can be temperamental.'
Chadwick took the Jockey Challenge on the night with a pair on Me Tsui Yu-sak-trained Golden Bauhinia early in the night before adding the Cruz-trained PP Eastern Empire, who relished stepping up in trip to 1,800m.
'The 1,400m was much too short for him first-up and he needed this kind of distance badly,' said Cruz.
'I didn't know how far he will go, I don't think he's a high class horse, but it was nice to get a win out of him early.'
Manfred Man Ka-leung continued a remarkable season with Gerald Mosse and Master Rio giving him win number 22 for the term in the second event.
Man's best previous season was 27 wins, and with this season barely more than half completed, he looks set for a new personal best.
'Derek Leung Ka-chun rode this horse for me once and said the horse was very timid so he wanted blinkers and he has had them the last few starts, but I took the blinkers off tonight,' Man said.
'Gerald said the horse was still a bit afraid of other horses, but with the good draw he was able to win.'
Off the track, the night was a big one for the Jockey Club, with the $847 million totalisator handle on the eight races establishing a new benchmark for Happy Valley night meetings this season.