Youngster makes his mark on HK debut
Only cruel luck robbed prodigious riding talent Maxime Guyon of an opening-day winner at Sha Tin yesterday, but the young Frenchman left no one in any doubt that he has not been overhyped.
The 21-year-old, described by legendary French trainer Andre Fabre as potentially the greatest riding talent he has seen in that country, was tossed into the deep end of things at just his third ride here when Lions' Fortune ran out of room up the inside of Crown Witness (Felix Coetzee) in the final stages of the Middle Handicap (1,400m).
So quickly was Lions' Fortune making ground that he looked likely to overhaul the leader in the final 60m of the race, only to see the gap close before he got fully into it, and Guyon was left standing in the irons going to the line, with favourite Young Turbo able to come back and take second in front of him.
The inquiry sign was hoisted and Guyon soon fired in a protest against Crown Witness, which could only have seen him become the runner-up if successful, but that was no simple matter for the Frenchman, who speaks very little English and was experiencing Hong Kong's rules for the first time.
'It was a little bit different - for one thing, the trainers are not involved in a protest in France. It is seen as a battle between the jockeys,' said Guyon's interpreter, Alexis Doussot, who acted for him during the stewards' hearing.
'But Maxime was sure that if he had room inside the leader, that he would win the race. His horse found his action late in the race and was coming very quickly.'
Stewards ultimately ruled Guyon's mount had not fully established himself into the run underneath Crown Witness when the leader shifted in towards the rail and that, being so late in the race, they could not be convinced he would have won it clearly.
'We felt in the circumstances that the objection could not be upheld, however, I would say that I was impressed with how Maxime Guyon handled himself in what was a new judicial environment for him,' said chief steward Kim Kelly.
'Obviously, he had to make his case through his interpreter, but he was straight to the point, made good, concise and relevant arguments and I think he did a good job representing the interests of the horse's connections or anyone who backed him.'
It was part of an impressive opening-day display from the rider, whose six rides yielded three thirds and a fourth placing.
But whether Crown Witness was fortunate to prevail or not, the Tony Cruz-trained three-year-old gave weight away to all his rivals in taking the honours and Coetzee was glowing in his praise.
'Tony told me before the race the horse was physically and mentally stronger than when I won on him last time and as soon as I got on him, I could feel that,' he said.
'He gave me a lot of confidence going to the start and when he jumped, he got to the lead pretty easily the first 30m or so. He had the pace to dominate and go fast enough in front that nobody was going to try to take him on and then he really fought hard in the straight. He's really developing into a nice horse and he's still only three-year-old with plenty more to come.'