Willie Cazals had been every bit the problem child since arriving in Hong Kong - an expensive and highly rated Italian import who turned barrier rogue and never got to contest the race he was purchased for, the 2012 Hong Kong Derby.
But last night at Happy Valley the grey stayer put his troubled past behind him and had trainer Tony Cruz talking up group race redemption after a win in the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union Cup over 2,200m.
After arriving on a mark of 93, it took seven trials for Willie Cazals to even qualify to race - if he wasn't standing in the gates, he was sidestepping after jumping and trying to throw his rider. By the time his debut came, the Derby had past, but his issues weren't over and he was sidelined for a period because of a tendon injury. Last night Matthew Chadwick was hard at work early just to keep up with the field, and then picked off the rails runs late to pinch the win by a neck.
"He has been such a handful this horse - he was nothing but trouble - but that's all in the past now and he is a serious contender," Cruz said. "He is definitely a group horse, and he is a horse that wants those long distances - he is a mile-and-a-half horse."
The obvious target for the winner of four from five in Italy is the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup on May 5, and possibly the Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup later that month - the only two races on the calendar, other than the Hong Kong Vase, over 2,400m with group race status.
The club refunded more than HK$16 million in bets on pre-race favourite Endowing in the feature race, after the John Size-trained four-year-old was a late withdrawal because of an eye injury.
It denied Size a chance to extend his lead in the trainers' championship on a night when Caspar Fownes drew to four of the top of the table with a double - although he was talking down his championship chances.
"Let's wait and see," Fownes said. "Slowly, slowly. It's been a good night, but we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves."
Fownes and Zac Purton combined with Highest Acclaim who box-seated, before Mobile King came from near last at the top of the straight, and against an apparent bias, to land Gerald Mosse the first of two winners for the night - he won later on Noble Boy for Peter Ho Leung, who also had a double.
With the third meeting on the track in the space of just over a week, and the rail in the B position with light rain falling intermittently throughout the meeting, the track offered some assistance to those wanting cushion, and perhaps to those stationed near the speed.
Ho's Beauty King won at his third start for his new yard with an all-the-way effort - he raced a touch keen but was rated well in front by Weichong Marwing and wasn't pressured. "He hadn't raced beyond the sprint distances for his former stable, but we think he needs ground," Ho said after the 1,650m win.
Jockey Andreas Suborics has been in fine form of late and collected a double to take his total of the term to 10. Suborics won the first for David Ferraris on Holy Mac, who was helped by a recent drop in grade and a switch back to the smaller circuit.
"The run before last was pretty good," Ferraris said. "But Douglas Whyte got off him last start at Sha Tin and said, 'He needs Happy Valley'. The horse loomed up on the bigger track, but he couldn't sustain his sprint, he goes much better here."
Suborics also helped cause the upset of the night on 41-1 pop Dragimova - after which trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung echoed the thoughts of most punters. "He ran a lot better than I expected," he said.
"This horse has had problems since the first step he took in Hong Kong. He has a terrible action and we are having problems with him all the time, so I think the give in the ground really helped him."