Resurgence delights O'Sullivan
Paul O'Sullivan and bold front-running Aashiq both put a miserable year behind them as a new one opened at Sha Tin yesterday and upset the stars in the Group Three Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1,400m).
Given a perfect ride in front by Jeff Lloyd, Aashiq was able to show off the speed and fighting qualities that had characterised his rise through the grades, but which had disappeared from his act last season when most of the O'Sullivan (pictured) team also went missing in the worst performance of his long and distinguished training career.
The multiple championship-winning New Zealand handler spent 2010-11 in the doldrums, only landing his 13th winner to satisfy the Jockey Club's performance criteria on the final day, but O'Sullivan shrugged off even the memory of that with his first treble since January 31, 2010.
'The stable was rife with a virus during last season - horses would travel in their races, then have nothing when the jockey pushed the button and I think it just kept going through the place,' said O'Sullivan, who added that a change of stable appeared to have been a positive for his team as well.
'The horses are doing much better in the new place, they are eating a lot more - I mean 15 per cent more, not a small difference - and they are probably running 30 pounds heavier but they are better for it.
'It's the opposite of last season, the horses are healthy and well and it is showing in their performances.' O'Sullivan landed Class Five stayer Rain Of Thunder (Derek Leung Ka-chun) early in the card, then added Finezza (Olivier Doleuze) in the ninth, but he saved the best for last with Aashiq able to dictate terms in the feature, then stave off the finishers and his return to form had parallels with that of his trainer.
'Aashiq's had two heart irregularities and, like most of the others in the team, he was struggling last season even before he got the second one in March,' O'Sullivan said.
'So I just thought he could have a long spell and miss the rest of the season.
'When he came back, he needed the first run, but his second run on international day was very good behind Captain Sweet and the way he worked before this race, we thought he would win.'
Lloyd said Aashiq's lead-up work was better than the gelding's work as he was winning his way up the ladder as a four-year-old in 2009.
'I said to Paul all week that he would win this, and then I got a nice surprise when Leading City didn't take me in the lead - normally they are running through that middle section in 21-something and today it was 22-something,' Lloyd said.
'They gave it to me. With his light weight, I sent him on his way at the 600m to make them carry their weights behind me and in the last 100m that made the difference.'
Captain Sweet again came to go past Aashiq, but with the leader not having to work as hard as last time they met, Aashiq found enough to hold out the John Moore-trained four-year-old.
New Year's Day has been kind to O'Sullivan in the past, with a treble on the day in 2010 and New Year wins in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and he made the most of it with three.
'It's nice to see old Rain Of Thunder win again and Finezza is doing a good job,' he said.
'He'll go to Class Two now so he'll have to step up, but he was another last season who tended to mix his form a little bit and the virus troubles might have played a part in that.
'He's racing really well now. But it's been a great day, an important day. Now all we have to do is get up in the morning and do it all again.'