FRENCH star Eric Saint-Martin rode a table-topping treble on Ladies' Day at Sha Tin yesterday and reflected on the difference a year has made to his professional life.
Saint-Martin, who has never lacked talent and is hugely impressive when at his best, rode flawlessly to score on Rugby Supreme in the third event, rejuvenated Basketball Leader in the following race and then conjured up a win out of enigmatic one-time Derby winner, Super Fit, in race six.
The Arc-winning jockey is now retained by Tony Cruz and the partnership has enjoyed an excellent start to the new campaign.
A year ago Saint-Martin, then retained by David Oughton, was back in Paris sitting out a lengthy suspension - and it wasn't the first ban he had copped from Hong Kong stewards.
After coming close to a four-timer when King Of Flash was beaten a short head in the final event, Saint-Martin said: 'I thought about a lot of things when I was suspended for so long last season.
'I knew then that I had to be not so demanding of myself although I still needed and had the desire to win. It is also maturity, I think it is easier to put it down that way.
'I am much more settled and it is a good relationship in the stable. And I have great respect and total confidence in Tony [Cruz]. He really did very well with Super Fit because he got him right to win today,' added Saint-Martin.
Rugby Supreme (6-1), blinkered for the first time and responsible for much-improved trackwork, raced slightly erratically in the straight but cleared away to win the Class Four, 1,600-metre event fluently from rank outsider Tambora Star (50-1) and consistent non-winner Cavalo (5-1).
Saint-Martin brought up the double for both himself and trainer Peter Ho, who ended a quite lengthy drought when Basketball Leader (8-1) swooped down the outside to nail Botany Bay (7-2 favourite) with Hara Hara (10-1) weakening slightly for third.
Super Fit has been erratic since the golden day he won the Derby for his then-trainer Lawrie Fownes and another French jockey in Gerald Mosse. But he was certainly on his very best behaviour in the Class Three, 1,400-metre sixth event when totally eclipsing his 13 rivals.
Nearest to him at the line was Handsome Man (6-1), almost three lengths adrift, and Satisfaction Smile (6-1), a head further back.
The featured Ladies' Purse went to Australian jockey Glen Boss and Multi-Star, who followed up on a good first-up performance to win by three-parts of a length from last start winner Win-Etic (25-1) and raging favourite Resfa (8-5).
The real story in the Class One, 1,800-metre feature lay in the unexpected defeat of former South African champion Resfa.
Trainer David Hayes is hoping that the horse will get into the International Cup field where, on his overall record, he would strengthen the local challenge.
'Basil [Marcus] knows it wasn't one of his best rides. He took a bit of a chance by not getting closer earlier, thinking he would be able to pick them up down the outside as he did last time over 1,400 metres. Better that it happen today than in a month's time anyway. And there's no doubt in my mind, or in most people's minds, that this is a real good one,' said Hayes.
'But now we have to get into the International Cup. It will be a real shame if he doesn't run.' Multi-Star had lost the thread towards the end of last season after looking a potential champion at one stage. But he was bang in form yesterday to give Boss an important - and welcome - victory.
'It was great to win a good race with the way I have been going lately. It was a thrill,' said the Australian.
There was drama after the post when leading claimer Martin C. K. Tsang parted company with Privilege and injured his left leg in the fall. The apprentice's saddle had slipped badly in the run and he did well to not only remain on board but also still do his best to ride the horse out to the line.
Tsang was detained in hospital overnight but earlier reports that his leg had been broken happily proved unfounded.