Danny Shum Chap-shing created history at Happy Valley on Wednesday night as Most Beautiful became the first Conghua-trained horse to win in Hong Kong.
It only took 13 races and 14 runners to achieve the breakthrough, one that signals a new era for the Jockey Club with the HK$3.7 billion facility now officially part of Hong Kong racing environment.
Shum is one of nine trainers involved in the first phase of the Conghua opening and he was full of praise for the set-up revealing “it’s really easy to get them ready for the races”.
The trainer, who typically gets his horses up and going early, has now had five horses run after spending time at Conghua and the three who weren’t rank outsiders have finished fourth (Lucky Storm, $23), first (Most Beautiful, $17) and fourth (Flying Force, $10).
Seeing how those runners performed on race day was one of the big questions entering the season and the early results suggest their performances are exceeding market expectations – an ominous sign for those 13 trainers yet to receive boxes at the mainland equine centre.
“Most of the horses that go to Conghua are really happy – he was really happy there,” Shum said. “It’s been great for me.”
Most Beautiful, who spent six weeks in Conghua, benefited from a strong pace set in the Class Four Middle Bay Handicap (1,000m), apprentice Dylan Mo Hin-tung settling him at the back of the field from a wide gate before swooping over the top of his rivals in the straight.
It was an important win for Mo, his first back after dislocating a hip following a nasty barrier trial fall in March.
“He’s worked very hard – the fall hurt his body but not his mind,” Shum said of his apprentice.
“When he was on the sidelines he was studying replays of Zac [Purton]and Joao [Moreira] as they fought for the championship so he will keep improving and I will keep supporting him.”
While the training in Conghua was a key component of Most Beautiful’s win, a big drop in the ratings also played a part.
“He ran fourth in his first start last season – a Class Three over 1,000m – and here he was dropping down to Class Four with a five-pound claim,” Shum said. “Tommy Berry rode him last year, so with the five-pound claimer on tonight there was a 17-pound difference.”
Shum finished the night with a double as promising sprinter Super Hoppy narrowly edged Fortune Booth in the Class Two Big Wave Bay Handicap (1,200m).
The five-year-old is now three-from-three since moving to Shum’s stable, with all three wins coming over 1,200m at the Valley.
It also gave Chad Schofield his first victory of the season – one that should give him a kick along as he seeks to establish himself in the top three of the championship.
One trainer who is already off to a flying start is Jimmy Ting Koon-ho, who is starting to build a reputation as a first-race specialist after taking out the opening event for a second meeting in a row.
Ting and new jockey Grant van Niekerk collected their maiden Hong Kong victories with Triumphant Jewel in the first race of the season at Sha Tin on Sunday and he combined with Matthew Poon Ming-fai to capture the opener at the city track with Le Pegase.
Jimmy Ting does it again! After taking the season's opener at Sha Tin on Sunday, Hong Kong's newest trainer lands R1 at the Valley with Le Pegase. #HappyWednesdayHK #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/U6LRHIm59B— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) September 5, 2018
Punters had twigged that it was worth following the rookie trainer and he did not let them down as the $3.80 favourite sat on the pace, before giving a kick in the straight to take out the Class Five Stanley Handicap (1,650m).
Zac Purton produced the ride of the night with a peach aboard even-money favourite Sky Melody in the Class Three Deep Water Bay Handicap (1,650m).
After jumping from barrier eight, Purton had Sky Melody midfield, one-off the rail within 150m and after the perfect trip in transit, the Caspar Fownes-trained five-year-old collected his first win in Hong Kong.
“He put the writing on the wall in his trial – and what about the ride – he’s a freak,” Fownes said.
“Hopefully he can go on with it, he’s got some issues with his right knee – but if he pulls up well and stays sound – he’s a nice horse.
“It was a nice win, you couldn’t ask for much more and I think he’ll also handle the dirt so that might be an option later on.”