The incomparable Douglas Whyte has been in a class of his own as he hurtles towards his 12th straight Jockeys' Championship and a superb treble at Happy Valley last night put him within striking distance of breaking his own record for wins in a season.
Perfectly judged rides aboard Tour De Force, Banksters Bonus and Sunshine Kid took the champion South African to 103 victories for the term, 11 short of his 114 wins in 2005-06 with six meetings remaining this season.
A recent two-meeting suspension, a trip to Japan to ride Glorious Days and the late season slowing down of main collaborator John Size's operation appeared to have stymied Whyte's chances of setting another stunning benchmark.
But Size showed with Whyte's first winner, three-year-old first-starter Tour De Force, that he still had some unexposed firepower in his ranks.
'He is a lovely, quiet horse and his temperament is so good that I had no fears that he could start off here at Happy Valley,' Size said of the Private Purchase Griffin, who is out of a half-sister to champion sprinter Apache Cat. 'When he drew where he could find the rail it made his job a lot easier,' Size added. 'For the time being, since he won here, we might keep him here next start.'
Some tactical nous on Me Tsui Yu-sak's Banksters Bonus helped the four-year-old break his local maiden as Whyte made up crucial ground cheaply down the back.
Whyte was forced to fight out a close finish on Michael Chang Chun-wai's Sunshine Kid, who held to beat 10-year-old Brilliant One.
'This horse has been very consistent,' Chang said of his maiden winner. 'Last start he was very unlucky and he wasn't tested, but that meant he wasn't used up and came into this feeling good. We will start again with him next season and I'll be gentle with him because he has some internal issues.'
David Hall got a call at 5pm yesterday informing him that Terry Wong Chi-wai was indisposed due to flu, and that Brett Prebble would be riding Yue Lu Treasure. The change of jockeys proved fortuitous as Prebble dictated terms throughout.
'It was obvious there wasn't a leader in the race, and from the outside gate, if you go back to last on the C track you'll be doing it really tough,' Hall said.
'If they go slow you've probably got none. I just said to Brett, that if you can get him to jump really well, then just go on with it and be outside the leader or in front.
'I was very lucky that Brett didn't have a ride in the race.
'I had confidence that with Brett's aggression that the horse could show more speed than most of his rivals.'
Dennis Yip Chor-hong's Winning Mascot went around at surprising odds of 9-1, but Tye Angland's astute assessment of a slackening speed and well-timed mid-race move helped the improving five-year-old notch his third win in four starts.
'Last time when he won he wasn't 100 per cent,' Yip said of the gelding, who suffered a stress fracture earlier this year.
Andy Leung Ting-wah was raving about the skills of Derek Leung Ka-chun after the young jockey's polished effort aboard back-to-back Class Five winner Bless Us All. 'I think Derek is the best of the local jockeys and he is riding with confidence,' the trainer said of his namesake.
Keith Yeung Ming-lun helped caused a 63-1 boilover in the last when he scored on Manfred Man Ka-leung's Distill, a former Group One winner in New Zealand. Yeung fell foul of stewards earlier in the evening though - he was given a two-day stretch and fined HK$30,000 for careless riding aboard Gold Edition.