Saying Don Wongchoy once had form “around” Pakistan Star is an almighty stretch, especially given it was 18 months ago and he was comprehensively beaten, but the battling gelding could finally win one at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Don Wongchoy hasn’t scored in 19 starts but had a brush with fame at his second trip to the races when he was one of 13 horses made to look pedestrian by a speed blur and soon-to-be superstar called Pakistan Star.
From there the careers arcs of the two horses took on very different directions; the race replay went viral, the Pakistan Star story turned soap opera and Don Wongchoy proceeded to compile a losing streak that saw him delve deep into Hong Kong’s lowest grade of racing, Class Five.
Maybe it is just a system where “every horse gets his race”, more than it is any improvement from Don Wongchoy, but placings at his past two starts indicate the four-year-old is edging closer to that elusive first victory.
“He is getting down to the bottom of Class Five, and you don’t have to be very good to win there,” said jockey Chad Schofield, who was aboard last start and retains the ride.
On paper, it would seem drawing barrier four has aided Don Wongchoy at his past two runs and barrier 14 will hurt his chances on Sunday.
Yet a combination of a lack of gate speed and luck has meant Don Wongchoy has been stuck wide in the run in both of those starts, looking well beaten before building the revs and working well to the line.
Schofield said a rethink in tactics might have been in order even before Don Wongchoy drew widest in the Kreta Ayer Handicap (1,400m).
“From a good gate we tried to have him as close as we could but he just wasn’t comfortable being there. He isn’t a speedy horse anyway, he keeps sticking on and plugs home,” he said. “I think now we just want to get him travelling comfortably, let him find his rhythm and hope that we get some speed in the race.”
Schofield also rides Me Tsui Yu-sak’s dirt specialist Fight Hero in the Class Two Lion City Handicap (1,650m) as the seven-year-old tries the extended mile again.
When he first arrived from France in 2014, Fight Hero was one of Hong Kong’s worst barrier rogues, proving difficult and even dangerous to load.
It took a long time for the Jockey Club starters to iron out the gelding’s issues and they loomed again last start when Fight Hero missed the kick over 1,200m two weeks ago.
After stepping out last, jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu was forced to weave a passage through the field and, given an uninterrupted run, Fight Hero probably wins.
Although unplaced in 13 starts beyond 1,200m for Tsui, Schofield is taking heart from Fight Hero’s racing style, an encouraging fifth over 1,650m two starts back and affinity with the dirt as he tries the course and distance again.
“He goes super on the dirt, a lot of Me’s horses do, and the way he ran home last start and finishes off his races, it would seem logical that the step up in trip suits,” Schofield said. “If you miss the start in a Class Two sprint it is basically all over, but maybe being up in trip gives him a little more leeway.”
Schofield also has a tricky gate to navigate from on last start winner Dundonnell in the Class One Singapore Turf Club Trophy (1,200m).
“Last time he drew well with the run of the race but he has drawn the widest of 11 and that will make it a lot more difficult,” Schofield said.
“He has also had trouble out of the gates so we need to have a look at the race and where we want to try to be in the run.”