Top local jockey Derek Leung Ka-chun passed a milestone and lost a millstone with the win of Planet Star at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
From Sunday, Leung will ride without any weight allowance as the Paul O’Sullivan-trained four-year-old took Leung’s tally in his Hong Kong riding career to 249 wins plus a Macau Group race.
Leung did his apprenticeship in New Zealand with O’Sullivan’s family and had been allocated to the Kiwi trainer during his junior days here, so O’Sullivan was thrilled to provide the winner that put Leung on equal footing with the Moreiras and Purtons.
But, far from believing that losing the two pounds could put a brake on Leung, O’Sullivan said it might come as a relief to the jockey.
Derek Leung earned his 250th win in Hong Kong guiding Planet Star to a third race success. With his 250th win, his 2lb claim is gone after tonight's meeting #HappyWednesdayHK pic.twitter.com/lOUaeRi4ti— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 21, 2018
“When they’ve got the two pounds, people put them on and expect them to make the effort to get at least a pound of the claim but Derek struggles to get to those lighter weights and he does it tough,” O’Sullivan said. “Now that he doesn’t have any claim, nobody can expect one and it won’t hold back his opportunities. He looks headed for a second Tony Cruz Award if you ask me.”
Planet Star spent most of his first 11 starts making his job harder by coming out of the gates slowly but has turned things around with fast getaways his past three starts and they’ve yielded two wins and a fourth.
“That was just experience, it has taken a while for him to learn and he has been pretty dumb generally,” O’Sullivan said. “He is still working out that he needs to change legs in the straight and it’s quite a limiting thing if they don’t. But Derek said he got it right tonight and that is quite a decent win considering how little rest he got up front. He should handle Class Three all right on that.”
He might have to tackle Class Three next time without Leung though as the jockey caught a careless riding ban later in the night, Silverfield costing him two days and a HK$22,500 fine, while Vincent Ho Chak-yiu got two days for his winning ride in the last race.
Speaking of Tony Cruz, he managed a win with Pakistan Baby for Alberto Sanna in the unfamiliar role of leader. For much of his career, Pakistan Baby also has been a poor beginner, running on from the back.
“It wasn’t a plan to lead tonight but when he began well and was stuck wide the jockey did the right thing – just go with him,” said Cruz.
Dennis Yip Chor-hong copped the advice of champion jockey Douglas Whyte with Roman Impero and came up trumps in the seventh.
The gelding hadn’t run for two months and Yip considered barrier trialling the horse but Whyte suggested taking the bay to the races big and fresh without a trial.
Despite the upset of having to be replated at the gates, Roman Impero put forward his best foot for Whyte and that was enough for a narrow win.
With the Golden Slipper looming, trainer Caspar Fownes had a giggle after his seven-year-old stable stalwart Sweet Bean (Umberto Rispoli) won his seventh Class Five race in the opener.
“Sweet Bean is a half brother to the Slipper winner Vancouver and the whole family is full of stakes winners,” he said. “He’ll never be anything but a low-grade stayer but he’s been an owner’s dream.”
And while Sweet Bean might not rate highly at the family dinner table in terms of his wins, Wednesday night’s victory gave him over HK$4 million in stakes and there are plenty of black-type winners who never get to that.