A career-best day of four winners and an early season trainers’ championship lead weren’t entirely unexpected occurrences for Chris So Wai-yin as the young trainer’s preseason predictions came to fruition at Sha Tin on Sunday.
“Before the season started I did a couple of interviews and I forecast I would do well,” So said, who scraped his way to 34 wins last term but already has nine from six fixtures and a four-win break over nearest rival Me Tsui Yu-sak.
“The reason I was confident was that some of my older horses were starting to get down in the ratings, I had newer horses that were coming to hand and after the summer I thought they would start to improve.”
Three of So’s winners – Sea Warrior, Natural Friendship and Lotus Breeze – had dropped in ratings reassessments during the break, while plunge horse Team Fortune had been steadily working his way down while still racing well through last season.
Now So also has something of a rising sprint star on his hands with Racing Supernova – who the trainer said would contest a Class Two straight race on October 16 – but believes his success is still a case of “doing the best with what I’ve got”.
“I don’t think a lot has changed with my overall strength in the stable,” So said.
“It’s just timing and ratings.”
It’s hard to argue with that assessment given So’s four winners had a combined local record of four wins from 88 starts before Sunday’s breakthroughs.
But if there is one to follow forward from the quartet, jockey Brett Prebble suggested it could be his Class Five winner Natural Friendship.
Taking blinkers off the scrawny gelding may have actually been the key to extracting something extra from the five-year-old – who, to So’s surprise, put nine pounds on since running at the season opener.
“He cooks himself in the blinkers,” Prebble said. “They may have to go back on him one day, but for now he is calmer and that is helping him keep condition.”
Professional punters clearly had Team Fortune in their sights as the five-year-old stepped on to the dirt for the first time on race day, as its price was slammed from double figures into 5.6 in the final seconds of betting.
The big betting move flagged a change in tactics as Douglas Whyte bounced Team Fortune out of barrier 12 to sit up outside the lead before holding off the well-supported runner-up Harbour Alert.
“He has always worked well on the dirt,” Whyte said. “He loves the surface and was fit and backing up a week after racing last week.”
It took a classic last-gasp Joao Moreira ride to eek out victory on Lotus Breeze – a one-time Epsom Derby runner that had dropped 26 points before an encouraging last start display put the writing on the wall for a 1,200m Class Three sprint at Sha Tin.
“I didn’t think I had won,” Moreira said of the narrow victory that came after a bumping duel with Nash Rawiller on Charity Glory, before a head bob that caught Multimax (Alvin Ng Ka-chun) right on the line.
So had actually been eyeing a 1,650m race on the dirt for Lotus Breeze and said the dirt could give him an option in the future.
“Sometimes you need some luck and we got some today,” So said. “We can also step him up to 1,400m and wait for the right race to come along.”