The most objective view would say that Francis Lui Kin-wai stumbled into his horse training career. More recently, he has 'stumbled' surefootedly into second place on the Hong Kong trainers' leaderboard and is breathing down the neck of former championship winner David Hayes. A reserved and thoughtful individual, Lui, 42, has taken the limelight by stealth rather than storm but the hot winning run which started in May gives no impression yet of having burned itself out. 'I suppose I am a little bit surprised to be running second in the championship, but it is very early in the season,' Lui says. 'If you look at my horses compared with last year, you would have to say my stable is better now, but I don't think I can be in the first two by the end of the season. I don't have a lot of the kind of younger horses which are going to keep winning when they have moved up from Class Four. They all start their careers in Class Four, but it is when they win and then start to meet the tougher horses that you see how far they can go. But I hope that getting those sorts of young horses in the stable is just a matter of time.' A family man with two children, Lui expected to have a career in horseracing, but it wasn't exactly this one. 'My father was a mafoo, so I grew up around horseracing,' Lui reflects. 'When I was a teenager, I joined the Jockey Club's apprentices' school and my ambition in racing was to be a jockey. I rode for seven years and I had 36 winners, but I realised I would not last too long. I was getting too heavy to get rides.' So Lui retired from the raceday saddle and turned instead to riding work and continuing to study horses under some excellent tutors. 'I was a work rider for Lawrie Fownes for five years before I was promoted to assistant trainer. Then I moved to work as assistant for Alex Wong Yu-on,' Lui remembers. His big break in horse training, though, came literally from nowhere when he had moved on from Wong's yard to be assistant to the former champion jockey, Tony P.H. Chan. Chan had a team of more than 50 horses in work when he was part of the ICAC sweep in March 1997 which involved two trainers, two jockeys and three apprentice riders. When Chan's licence was suspended, Lui was installed as a caretaker trainer and hit form immediately with a double at Sha Tin on March 31. While the lengthy ICAC investigations continued, Lui continued to turn out winners and it seemed a natural progression to do the same job when it was over. 'When the Jockey Club took away P.H. Chan's licence, I was able to take it over,' Lui says. In his first full season, Lui quietly assembled 17 victories and if there was any thought that he was merely a nightwatchman who got lucky, that was quickly put aside in 1998-99 when Lui delivered 31 owners' photos. He has followed that with similarly consistent figures of 26 and 27 wins but now, armed with the maximum 60-strong team in 2001-2002 and the inertia of his fast last-term finish, Lui has laid the foundation for even better things. Eleven wins in the first five weeks of this season and 22 winners with his last 120 runners show that all the hard work is paying off. 'I don't really have any special theory about training, I think you just keep working,' Lui says, words that will ring true with any of his peers. 'As you keep working, you keep gaining experience. Every horse has different characteristics, you don't find two the same. Then you use the knowledge of what you have done before but you still keep learning.' Many have a preference for staying horses over sprinters, and vice versa, but Lui's leaning is purely a practical one. 'I would say I prefer to train the horses for races over 1,200 metres to a mile,' he says. 'But really that is because most of the races are over those distances and they get more opportunities for the horse to win.' Despite his consistent win record, Lui's only Class One winners remain his superior horses from that debut season in Kimber and Magic Joy, the latter still the best horse he has trained. 'Magic Joy had leg problems but was a very good, very tough horse,' he says. 'I have some owners who would like to buy top-class horses but you know they are not so easy to buy. They are very expensive and hard to find, so I concentrate on buying mostly PPGs, and mostly from Australia. Even Diamond Moon was bought by the owner and, when he asked me to train him that was the first I knew.' The attractive German import, whose three-year-old form at home included a fast-finishing fourth in the German 2,000 Guineas, has shaped nicely in a couple of barrier trials for Lui. 'I am not thinking about him for the International races,' Lui says. 'Actually, I am thinking about where he can have his first run. With the programming, there are no races in October for him over 1,400 metres or a mile, which is where I want to start him, so he might have to wait until next month to run. I don't know if that means there is anything wrong with the programming, just that it doesn't suit this horse. For someone else it might be very good. But I am very happy with how he is acclimatising. I hope he might be the one.'