Tsui cleans up on the dirt with a sprint double
Me Tsui Yu-sak came to the track with low expectations, but left with a dirt track double after a pair of horses who most definitely fit the description - "all-weather track specialist", won on Sha Tin's tricky inner circuit.
Tsui's winners Hearts Keeper and Cheetah Boy are now a combined seven of 17 on the dirt - and one from 21 away from it - after the duo gave Tsui his 16th and 17th triumphs of the term.
The trainer's low expectations with Hearts Keeper didn't stem from the five-year-old's recent form, it has been good, but rather from being stuck with a seemingly poison barrier draw of 11 for the Class Four.
"I thought it would be very difficult to win from there," said Tsui, whose confidence would have further plummeted when Ben So Tik-hung's pre-race plan backfired.
It's not often a jockey wants to be three wide, in a best-case scenario, but that didn't even work out for So.
"I thought I should be three wide, because I would have rather be there than get too far back," So said. "I tried to be midfield - but then I ended up more like four or five wide, so it was an amazing run given how hard he worked."
Hearts Keeper has now won two from four on the dirt, both wins this season. While he clearly gives his best on the track, both jockey and trainer believe he still has something to offer on the turf when he steps up in grade and distance.
"His action is just normal and he goes well on the grass, but I think for now the dirt is the best way. In the future, he will be hard to beat over 1,650m on the dirt." While there may be options for Hearts Keeper, the form of Cheetah Boy is chalk and cheese when it comes to turf and dirt.
The six-year-old is one from 16 away from the dirt, including an abysmal last-placed effort, beaten 10 lengths, last start. Back on his "home ground", Cheetah Boy racked up his fifth all-weather track win from 14 tries.
Like his stablemate, Cheetah Boy drew awkwardly, jockey Howard Cheng Yue-tin forced to navigate a passage from gate eight. Cheng has now won twice on Cheetah Boy and said the wide gate was actually a blessing for a slow beginner.
"The horse is better off drawing barrier eight because he doesn't really start very well. He just shuffles, but once he gets into stride, then you can move forward," he said.
Cheetah Boy hadn't won in 10 tries in Class Two previously, but after lumping more than 130 pounds at his last four runs down in Class Three, Cheng felt a drop in weight had helped.
"Even though he is consistent on the dirt and has had some success lately, he has been finding it very tough carrying those big weights," he said. "Today with the drop down in the weights, he just felt like a different horse."