Kei Chiong Ka-kei has been breaking down barriers all season and yesterday the star apprentice forged to the front in the race for “leading local” honours as her claim helped to vault two four-year-olds through the Class Four glass ceiling.
Hong Kong’s first female jockey in 15 years, started the day tied on 26 wins with Keith Yeung Ming-lun, who was declared unfit to ride after race three, and convincing victories by Regency Darling and Molly’s Jade Star took her to 28 wins with 12 meetings remaining in what has been a tremendous rookie campaign.
Chiong could be sharing the stage with the likes of Joao Moreira and John Size at the season finale on July 10 as the leading rider of freelance and apprentice jockeys, and many feel that she could be in line for most popular jockey as well.
The 23-year-old’s seven-pound weight pull made a massive difference as she climbed aboard Regency Darling and Molly’s Jade Star, two horses lumped with big weights and seemingly stuck at the top of their grade and for whom getting weight off was critical.
“He had such a big weight, we weren’t confident, so we had to try something,” trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung said after Chiong brought Regency Darling across from a wide draw to lead and dictate.
Chiong admitted her game plan was relatively simple on Regency Darling, a lightly raced four-year-old that won first-up this term but will now head into Class Three with some momentum.
“He is a big horse, and he will travel pretty well for you – you have to ask him for that early speed but after that he will give you whatever he has got,” she said. “My plan was just to be handy and I just stuck to it.”
The same plan from a similar draw didn’t work out well at all on Molly’s Jade Star, with Chiong ending up posted three wide with no cover, yet the horse once derided by some as a non-winner still burst away for a dominant victory.
“Lucky we managed to get the girl to ride him, he needed that weight off his back to break through and go up in grade,” said trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai.
Molly’s Jade Star put together a remarkable streak of seconds this season – five in a row at one stage and six in total – but the way the chestnut rushed away with a Class Four win backed Yiu’s assessment that the gelding is headed higher.
“I really like this horse,” Yiu said. “He has been up since the start of the season and hasn’t run a bad race. He missed one race with lameness early but he just keep turning up. He has been fully fit all of that time and has held his condition really well. The way he won today, he can win again, but given how long and hard his season has been, we might give him a break and bring him back next season.”