The stunning rise of Frankie Lor (September 3)
Frankie Lor Fu-chuen collected a winner with his first runner and he never stopped – finishing the season with an astonishing 65 winners to set a record for a first-year trainer. Lor had a terrific grounding after working for John Size and John Moore and he has put it into practice, finishing a clear second in the trainers’ championship. He started with a host of “hand-me-downs” and got most of them firing and now he has a potential superstar in Glorious Forever. From start to finish, it was an outstanding performance.
Australian quarantine ban (October 2)
There were no Australian competitors for any of the Sha Tin features after the government switched off the green light for Hong Kong’s direct export status due to the addition of the HK$4 billion Conghua Training Centre to the equine bio-environment. Australian authorities said they had not had time to assess the disease status and controls over horse movement. The result means horses have to spend six months in quarantine in a third country before going to Australia, removing the possibility of a horse coming to Sha Tin to compete. The tit-for-tat continued with the Jockey Club refusing to participate in some horse sales before progress started to be made. While there is still no firm resolution, it is expected to happen soon.
Zac Purton collects IJC after saying ‘I can’t win’ (December 6)
The Aussie gave himself little chance of taking out the International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley, opening up a HK$16 chance and telling everyone “I can’t win” after the draws came out. But Purton surprised himself, winning two of the four races with Our Hero and Let’s Take It Easy to beat the likes of Ryan Moore, Hugh Bowman and Joao Moreira to capture the title after finishing second in 2012 and 2013. “Coming here tonight I didn’t think I had the rides to do it,” Purton said.
Derek Leung takes Hong Kong Mile on Beauty Generation (December 10)
Derek Leung Ka-chun became the third local jockey after Tony Cruz and Matthew Chadwick to win one of the Hong Kong International Races when he guided Beauty Generation to an all-the-way victory in the Hong Kong Mile. Leung got a huge reception from the crowd of 90,000 as he returned to scale to enjoy the biggest moment of his career. It was the first of three Group Ones for the Horse of the Year, but Zac Purton took over as the five-year-old claimed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup and the Champions Mile. “It wasn’t just a big win for me, but for all the local jockeys,” Leung said. “It’s very hard to get an opportunity in a big race from owners and trainers, because they have so many options to choose a good jockey. We have to prove that we are reliable and can be trusted.”
Ping Hai Star’s impossible Derby (March 18)
John Size has shown time and time again why he is one of the best trainers of all-time, but he produced another masterpiece to guide Ping Hai Star to victory in the Hong Kong Derby. The feature wasn’t even on Size’s mind a month before the race because he had his hands full getting the horse to do more right than wrong in his races. The gelding won over 1,400m on March 3, had a trial at Happy Valley on March 9 before coming from last to win the 2,000m Derby with Ryan Moore in the saddle. Horses just don’t do that after a preparation like that and even the modest Size, who also collected his 10th trainers’ championship, allowed himself to enjoy the moment. “I have got some satisfaction out of that – that felt pretty good,” Size said. “The lead-up was difficult and to come out the other side with the Derby is a great relief. There were gambles that had to be taken.”
Nash Rawiller’s disqualification (April 25)
Nash Rawiller committed one of the cardinal sins of Hong Kong racing and was disqualified for 15 months after stewards found him guilty of accepting money or gifts in return for race tips. While his career in Hong Kong is in tatters, he could face more serious consequences. The Independent Commission Against Corruption held him for almost 48 hours but it is still yet to announce if he will face charges. The obvious comparison is the 2008 “tips for bets” affair when Chris Munce was outed for 30 months by the Jockey Club and served 20 months in jail. It is a sad end to Rawiller’s Hong Kong stint after working so hard to establish himself – he was third in the jockeys’ championship at the time.
Pakistan Star finally delivers (April 29)
Pakistan Star became an internet sensation after two stunning last-to-first wins to kick off his career and he created a cult following with his combination of quirkiness and talent. Then came the “Pakistan Stop” incident, when he refused to race before doing it again in barrier trials. With all the drama surrounding him, the Tony Cruz-trained gelding finally got back to the races in February, finishing fourth in his first three starts, but then everything came together in the Group One QE II Cup. Initially, Silvestre de Sousa was meant to ride, but he couldn’t get a flight out and then Kerrin McEvoy got the call-up before getting injured in Australia. William Buick was the last-minute replacement and he settled in the box seat before exploding at the top of the straight and racing away to the most popular victory of the season. He went on to take his second Group One in the Champions & Chater Cup to establish himself as the equine star of Hong Kong racing.
Southern Legend salutes in Singapore (May 26)
Singapore has been a happy hunting ground for Hong Kong-based horses so when the Lion City announced it was bringing back its international races, starting with the Kranji Mile, plenty were putting their hand up. The Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend led all the way, while Tony Millard’s Horse Of Fortune completed the quinella for Hong Kong. It was the lone overseas win for Sha Tin-based trainers with Werther going the closest to joining Southern Legend with a brave second in the Group One Takarazuka Kinen in Osaka.
Joao Moreira announces he is leaving (June 7)
The Magic Man dropped the bombshell that he was heading to Japan the night before the Jockey Club announced who was and wasn’t getting licences for the 2018-19 season. Moreira has dominated Hong Kong racing in his five-year stint, winning three jockeys’ championships, all of the main races and setting a record with eight winners in a meeting. It leaves a massive hole on the riding roster and means 134 wins are there for the taking. It kicked off a day of carnage when the Hong Kong careers of Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze were ended while Tommy Berry also announced he was heading home to Australia. It was a frustrating season for Berry, who joined as John Moore’s stable rider but that ended in April after the arrangement failed to live up to expectations.
Purton and Moreira slug it out in epic championship race (July 8)
The last two months of the season were all about the race for the title and it culminated in a brilliant display in the third-last meeting. With everything on the line, the two superstars went toe-to-toe – winning the first seven races of the day between them before finally finishing locked together with four winners each. It encapsulated the fierce on-track rivalry the two have enjoyed, the competition bringing out the best in both of them. Purton won the title a week later, finishing with 136 winners to Moreira’s 134. They won over a third of the races for the season between them and their battle won’t be forgotten.