A comeback win by popular Frenchman Olivier Doleuze lit up an otherwise dull all-dirt meeting at Sha Tin last night when the veteran scored an emotional victory on Michael Chang Chun-wai’s Our Folks as the old Rich Tapestry team were reunited.
Doleuze returned to riding in Hong Kong last Sunday after a long injury lay-off, plus a short stint in Macau, and hadn’t won a race in Hong Kong since June 10 last year.
It might have only been a Class Three handicap, but Doleuze’s celebration was Group One standard as he punched the air crossing the line on Our Folks and then comically wiped some sweat from his brow after returning to scale.
“The pressure is off,” Doleuze said, the jockey having earlier finished a short-head second for Chang on Class Five galloper Commandant. “I should have won that race, too. It’s so great to be back, to win for a great friend like Michael and on this horse – I love this horse. I rode him at his second start and won.”
Otherwise, it was business as usual at Sha Tin, with Joao Moreira adding another two wins to his tally as he chases his own record for most victories in a season.
Moreira produced a brilliant piece of riding on Sempiternal and extracted everything from Sichuan Vigour to move to 117 wins for the term so far, 28 short of his own record of 145 set last term.
Sempiternal hadn’t won in more than a year and trainer Chris So Wai-yin was hailing the ride as “brilliant” as Moreira extracted himself from a pocket early after jumping from gate one.
“This horse is very one-paced, so he needs to be near the speed, but that’s not the problem – the problem is that he has lost his early speed,” So explained after the 1,800m Class Four.
“He used to be able to get to the front much easier. So I had two instructions for Joao – the first was to get a clean jump, he had to be first three, and the second was to get away from the fence and give the horse clear galloping space.”
With instruction one complete and Sempiternal in the box seat, Moreira made sure he was following the second directive by the time the field had turned into the back straight.
Moreira later helped trainer John Size kick 10 clear of Danny Shum Chap-shing in a trainers’ championship race in which many have declared correct weight after Sichuan Vigour outlasted Perpetual Treasure in a straight-long duel to give the handler 50 wins for the term.
“The horse showed a lot of toughness,” Moreira said after he and Zac Purton had gone head-to-head. “He hasn’t got a great record, but he loves the dirt and is pretty consistent on the surface.”
Teetan won two of the first three races – Bear Rapper breaking through for the first time with a switch to the dirt and Pablosky hanging on as favourite in a Class One sprint.
Bear Rapper’s trainer David Ferraris doesn’t believe his sprinter is a one-hit wonder and will be competitive at Happy Valley, although the South African admitted he had reservations about his horse’s chances from an inside draw last night.
“You don’t want to get too far back on the inside, so we had to stay close – he was able to do that and the race worked out well,” he said.
With trainer Paul O’Sullivan in Sydney spending up big at the Inglis Easter yearling sales, it was left to his assistant Pierre Ng Pang-chi to heap praise on dirt specialist Expedite (Nash Rawiller) after the seven-year-old surprised with a second straight victory, this time at big odds.
“We weren’t very confident tonight after he drew outside, but he is racing so well for his age,” Ng said after Expedite’s sixth career win, all of them coming in Class Four.
“He hasn’t been able to win in Class Three before, but maybe with him racing so well we can find a weaker race for him later in the season.”
Richard Gibson’s Class Five battler My Cup Overflows had seen his rating plunge to a career low of 22 and he was sent out unfancied at 14-1, but burst back with a fighting win for Chad Schofield.
“I think the gap between runs helped him a lot,” Schofield said.
“He hadn’t raced since mid February and that is obviously what he needed – to keep that space between his runs. He got a soft run on the speed but he fought well to hold off the horse on his inside.”
It was a timely win for Schofield, who will miss the Chairman’s Sprint Prize and Champions Mile on May 1 after picking up a two-day careless riding suspension and a HK$52,500 fine for his ride on last-placed Industrialist Way in race seven.
In that same race, Northern Falls was another victorious outsider – albeit one on the end of huge support – skipping away with a Class Three after he had his odds crunched late to return 10-1. And trainer Benno Yung Tin-pang believes it might not be the last win of the season for his five-year-old: “Coming back to 1,650m helped him tonight.”