Veteran local jockey Eddy Lai Wai-ming completed a long road back from injury to the winner’s circle at Happy Valley on Wednesday night when he shocked not only punters but Racing Mate’s trainer.
The Chris So Wai-yin-trained Racing Mate was Lai’s 286th winner in a career stretching back to the early 1990s but his first since October 2015, as he defied the early on-pace pattern of racing at the Valley to come from near last at 29-1.
“It’s great for Eddy. He has always helped me a lot and I told him that I owed him a winner – I just didn’t think this would be the one,” said So after the last stride victory that was also the horse’s first win since late 2015.
“The bias looks hard to beat tonight but the pace was very strong in this race. Racing Mate bled last year, he has had his problems and isn’t consistent. But he is also a sprinter who needs to come from the back so that makes his life difficult.”
Despite the long wait, it had only been 56 rides since Lai’s previous winner, Trendiful, with 54 of those since he returned to the saddle in April after missing 18 months of riding.
“The knee injury was quite serious,” Lai said. “And when I returned to riding, it felt like I’d had a long summer holiday. I wasn’t totally fit, I had to get used to the rhythm of race riding again but, thanks to the owners and trainers who supported me, I kept working and it is coming back.”
Alas, Lai also managed to pick up a two-day careless riding charge, but it was a night full of “moments” of varying degrees on a Valley track that did its usual party trick after the heavy rain of Monday and Tuesday and ran quick all night.
Apprentice Dylan Mo Hin-tung shed his 10-pound claim after landing his 19th and 20th wins on My Blessing and Master Viking and he knocked off Joao Moreira in the Jockey Challenge to celebrate the milestone.
The considerably more experienced Alvin Ng Ka-chun has had a tough season but also lost part of his weight allowance when Time Warp smashed the Happy Valley 1,800m record giving the rider a third success for the term. Mo drops to seven pounds from Sunday, while Ng now claims three pounds.
Time Warp just lowered course record for 1800m at Happy Valley, stopping the clock in 1:47.61s. 275mm of rain fell in last 48hrs— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 14, 2017
Boom apprentice Matthew Poon Ming-fai had a first night at Happy Valley to remember, landing a winner to keep intact his tremendous record of having won at least one race at every meeting he has contested in Hong Kong.
“Both horse and rider performed like they’d been here many times, not like it was their first attempt,” said trainer David Hall after Poon won on 26-1 shot Gracious Ryder.
“The way it unfolded really suited the horse. He’d never had so much as a trial here but he handled the track, the lights perfectly and so did Matthew. He’s ridden well all night.”
The night didn’t end comfortably for Poon, though, as he lost his stirrups early in the last race and completed it without them on Gracydad.
Bias? Well, that was the perception but some races just went too fast and three of the eight winners came from the rear of the field, and Manfred Man Ka-leung finally had some luck, landing a “Jade” double with Jade Fortune (Zac Purton) and Jade Theatre (Umberto Rispoli).
It hasn’t been a season to remember for Man – although his recent form has picked up – and horses like Jade Fortune have been the reason, racking up a frustrating run of minor placings.
“This horse gets back and always had bad luck but tonight I guess he was lucky. The pace was just too crazy,” Man said. “The horse tries very hard, I hope he can improve a little bit more and make it to Class Two.”
Moreira’s night was quiet by his standards, bringing home Clever Spirit in the first race as he stepped up to 1,650m for the first time.
“He has a miler’s pedigree but I haven’t been able to get him fit enough to run him at the trip,” said trainer Caspar Fownes. “His joints are not great so it’s hard to get the work into him. But he’d been running well in the sprints and he had a few runs under the belt so I thought we’d try him.”