British champion jockey Kieren Fallon assured himself of a red carpet return to Hong Kong next winter with a superb treble to usher in the Year of the Rabbit at Sha Tin yesterday.
It was a day that started with the Irishman being hit with a $8,000 fine for a whip offence at the last meeting before the break but that was merely a minor dip into the pocket with the sweeping success that followed.
Fallon, who rode just one winner in a one-month stay last season, has taken Hong Kong by storm in this term's three-month winter stint and he gave his growing band of followers a perfect start with a double in the first two races.
Griffin Courage Star (9-2) readily obliged in the first race of the New Year and Fallon followed up with the Bruce Hutchison-trained Spartan (9-1) in the second event.
Punters cashed in again on Fallon in the fourth event when the Patrick Biancone-trained Whytellyou (6-1) won the straight dash down the 1,000 metres.
Fallon is already firmly marked down for a return trip to Hong Kong next season and there have also been minor overtures to have him return as a stable jockey in the future.
It's all hardly surprising considering the success Fallon has had and the change of year certainly did not change his winning habits. He had earlier in the week starred in Bombay where he rode a double for an international jockeys' team against the local side.
Said Fallon: 'I have had good support and that has been vital. It has been a very enjoyable stay and it has been made all the better because of the winners. It can take a bit of getting used to, Hong Kong, but I learned quite a bit when I was here last year.
'You start every raceday hoping for a winner and I thought there was a chance or two on today's card, so it has been very good. You could not complain about starting any New Year anywhere with a treble!' It is unlikely that any superstars will emerge from the opener where Courage Star, with the benefit of racing experience, proved too good for improving One Step Ahead (5-1) and first starter Mr Powerful (50-1).
Air Force One (5-2) was all the rage in the Class Four, 1,600-metre second event but was a beaten horse about 70 metres out when crossed by De Integro (8-1). It led to an inquiry but Spartan, although clearly coming off a line, was not adjudged to have been involved and scored by a neck and the same.
Trainer Bruce Hutchison said: 'Spartan has been with me for some time and it is only his second win. He is alright in the right grade. Kieren [Fallon] did a fine job with him.' Fallon's threesome was completed when Whytellyou, with form down the straight course, won from Fast Win (16-1) and his Eric Legrix-ridden stablemate Treasure Island (5-1).
The combination of trainer Ricky P. F. Yiu and jockey Steven King has been markedly successful this season and the pair opened the New Year brightly by taking the Classes One and Two fifth event down the straight course with game Bullish (7-2 favourite).
Proven on the tricky straight track, Bullish won much as he pleased, clearing away to win by a length and a quarter from Ovation (25-1) and bottomweight Sun Shine River (8-1).
Said King: 'Bullish gives you everything he has and we were drawn in the middle. It allowed me to get him over to the good ground and we were always going to be in it. Nice way to start the New Year.' The day's most impressive mid-grade victory came from Toy Warrior (6-1) who resolutely followed up on his debut fourth over 1,000 metres at Happy Valley to score easily for Brett Doyle in the Class Four third event.
A frustrating afternoon for Douglas Whyte ended when he took the final event with Aly Baba (6-1), holding off the gallant Aspiration (10-1).