Mark du Plessis had some nervous moments in both legs of a double and the timing of his winning day was perfect, arriving at a key stage of the season with jockey departures soon to open opportunities for the natural lightweight.
Du Plessis scored on the Dennis Yip Chor-hung-trained Real Generous, on which he found himself further back than planned, and John Size's King Mossman, who he held together under pressure rounding the turn.
Real Generous was sent out second favourite ($30.50) looking for back-to-back wins in a Class Four (1,600m) contest and Du Plessis had the intention of making best use of barrier two, anticipating a slow tempo. 'My heart was in my mouth once we jumped, I wanted us in the box seat, but he was just too relaxed and was slow out,' he said. 'We ended up a few horses further back than expected.'
Where Du Plessis ended up was worse than midfield and trailing favourite Right Timing in the run. The jockey didn't have to worry, though, as the four-year-old lumped 129 pounds to sprint away to win by 11/4-lengths.
'I thought the win was really impressive, because he showed a good turn of foot again, this time under a big weight,' Du Plessis said. 'That's what you need if to take a step up in class.'
It was the second straight win over the course and distance for Real Generous, but Du Plessis said the horse could get further.
'He really finished off there, and I think he'll be even better over the 1,800m,' he said.
Yip agreed, but said he would keep the horse at a mile for now.
'This horse will keep improving,' he said. 'He was too relaxed and walked out of the gates, but we got lucky because the pace was faster than we thought it would be.'
A switch to the all-weather track did the trick for classy sprinter King Mossman, who won his first race since the opening day of the season in an extended-ratings band (105-80) Class One (1,200m) event, as he was slammed in betting late.
The brown lamp was lit as his odds tumbled from as much as $150 into $66.
Size explained the move to the dirt: 'The 1,200m races on the grass here at Sha Tin are a bit too strong for him, and the same is true of the straight races - he will run third or fourths all day - but they're too strong for him to win,' he said. 'When he has been to Happy Valley he doesn't seem to be as efficient there and doesn't really handle it.
'So the dirt track was calling, he is the right type of horse for the surface,' he added. 'He's got good speed and can put himself there. He's a bit one-paced in a finish but he'll keep going. For something to come out of the pack and catch him, they have to be pretty special.'
'On the line it felt like there was a little bit more there,' said Du Plessis, whose 'heart-in-mouth' moment on King Mossman came when Jeff Lloyd on Charles The Great tried to slide in front of him rounding the turn.
'I'd never ridden this horse on raceday and Dougie [Whyte] was telling me after the race that this horse doesn't like to be crowded. He could have backed out, but he showed a bit of gut,' he said.
With Lloyd soon to depart Hong Kong, along with Brett Doyle, Neil Callan and Maxime Guyon, a riding double to Du Plessis was a timely reminder of his talents, with new opportunities sure to arise in the coming months.
'The timing is good,' he said. 'I've got to give John and Dennis thanks, and Me Tsui has been great as well.'