Alex Lai Hoi-wing burst into fifth position in the jockeys' premiership at Happy Valley last night with a treble of winners that saw him sweep all bar the Jockey Challenge winner, apprentice Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, aside as he made hay while the hot rail bias was on display.
Lai drove Compact Yarn and Happy Guys to victory for trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai, and completed the treble on the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Free And Easy as he racked up a huge payday before he serves his pending suspensions for careless riding which will put him on the sidelines for five meetings.
'After the first race, everyone knew the inside was the place to be, and I only got three winners tonight with the help of the track and some good barriers,' Lai said.
'Ricky's horses are all in form and running well at the moment, I think he has really got his stable firing.
'Early in the season his horses were not as wound up as they are now, and a few nice new ones coming in has helped things along.'
Lai's season tally now stands at 29 after Happy Guys chalked up a second win at start 10, earning almost HK$1.5 million in prize money for his connections in the Ricky Yiu Trainers Syndicate.
That 1?length win in the last completed a heavily supported stable double, with Compact Yarn also being smashed in betting before nailing a half length win in the Noonday Gun Handicap (1,800m).
'Compact Yarn is four years old now and is the right age to be performing at his peak,' Yiu said. 'I'm very happy with how he is coming along, and I'm sure he'll keep performing because he is very genuine.' Lai's other winner came from trainer Lui aboard Free And Easy, and the handler was quick to thank recent relief in the handicaps for victory in the Jardine Handicap (1,200m).
'He arrived in the system a little high in the handicap ratings, but now he has dropped back down to a level where he is competitive,' Lui said.
'The problem for him early was that his rating was not so high that he couldn't run a good race, but he just had trouble winning, and that held him around the same mark for a long time.
'He's a very honest horse, and there was no doubt that a bit of rain helped him to win tonight, because the track was really helping leaders.'
Apprentice Ho was the first to find the fast lane last night, however, and he rammed home his advantage with a double and three seconds to claim the Jockey Challenge with 42 points narrowly ahead of Lai on 40.
Wins on Grand General and Perfect Ten for Ho netted 12 points apiece, with his second placings on Private Road, Track Lightning and Ocean Wide boosting his tally in lots of six, as he put his more experienced competitors to the sword with his single-minded pursuit of the front spot on the rails travelator.
Brett Prebble combined with the in-form Dennis Yip Chor-hong for an impressive 1?length victory with Fearless, who won his fourth race over his favourite distance of 1,800 metres last night at start 51.
'The old horse is going really well at the moment, I did some work with him early on when he first went to Dennis Yip, and I didn't think his action was quite right at that stage,' Prebble said.
'He's blossomed now, and although the cut in the ground was probably a big help for him tonight, the way he is going he should be able to win again.'