On a low-key night at Happy Valley, the unifying theme seemed to be relief of various kinds as some put the finishing touches to their season and others finally reached goals with the end of the term looming.
Trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak was talking about weight relief after apprentice Jack Wong Ho-nam led throughout on consistent Kitaya to win the fourth, the second leg of a winning double for Tsui, who had won the opener with another leader in Faithful Boy (Chad Schofield).
“At this stage of the season, I think maybe 70 per cent of the horses are already tired,” Tsui said.
“So you put the seven-pound claimer on a horse who goes in front and they are hard to get past.
“Kitaya has also had some racing, but he had a small break already.
“For Faithful Boy, I think the difference was the blinkers.
That gave him the speed to get to the lead, but he was also very strong over the 1,650m after racing over longer distances lately.”
Relief was a common theme after the wins by Paul O’Sullivan-trained Never Better (Douglas Whyte), David Ferraris-trained Bear Rapper (Joao Moreira) and David Hall-trained Heroic Guru (Zac Purton).
In Bear Rapper’s case, it was his trainer who was feeling the relief, as the gelding gave him 13 winners for the season and satisfied the benchmark performance criteria as Ferraris had already landed HK$17 million in stake money.
Hall was trying 1,800m for the first time with Heroic Guru and was another relieved man to see him get home after a clever ride from Purton.
“He’s been going so well in the mile races without winning and it has been a bit frustrating, so I thought we’d give him a try over the extra distance and see if that could get out of him the little more he needed to win another one,” Hall said.
For the connections of Never Better, it has been a tough road to the first victory, but Whyte was grateful they had stuck with him to get the win after he had ridden the horse his previous six starts for four seconds, several in photos.
“Even tonight, he wanted to throw the race away,” said Whyte after a nose was the official margin over Flying Monkey.
“On the C+3, it looked easy before the race with gate one, but he’s quite a difficult horse.
“He thinks about things and that’s why this win was close when it should have been comfortable after the run he’d had.
“Maybe he’ll take some confidence from that and next season we’ll see a better horse.”
Tony Millard is hoping that Mint Master might be a better proposition next season, too, and plans to put the South African-bred four-year-old away now after he scored back-to-back victories and gave Chad Schofield a double.
“Chad rode a clever race – he let Moreira show his hand and kick away on the favourite then reeled him in again,” Millard said.
“I’ll see how the horse is, but that’s probably it for the season. It’s his first preparation here and I don’t want to kill him.
“We need horses for next season too and he should pay his way.”
But there was no relief for Moreira’s rivals, the Brazilian landing yet another Jockey Challenge and his winning double taking him to 148 wins for the term.