Grant van Niekerk battled his way to the top of the tree and Chad Schofield heralded his “lucky haircut” as the intriguing early season jockeys’ battle continued on Saturday.
Both riders jagged doubles under the relentless Sha Tin sun, with Van Niekerk’s wins on Gorgeous King and Triumphant Jewel enough to see him draw level with Zac Purton on five wins at the top of the jockeys’ championship.
Van Niekerk admits he has surprised even himself with his haul of five winners from the first five meetings after making the move from South Africa, but is realistic about where he stands.
“Hong Kong’s quite hard and obviously you have to work your way to the top over here,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m at the top but I’m certainly getting the chances.
“I got to Hong Kong two weeks before the jockeys came back so I was putting in the hard work and obviously it’s paying off. As long as you are on the good side with the trainers and the owners, you will do well.
“You have to have the horse underneath you in order to do well and I feel like I’m getting the chances, but you still have to produce the result. I mainly just try to be as confident as I can on them and it’s paying off.”
Van Niekerk and trainer Jimmy Ting Koon-ho made history when Triumphant Jewel gave them their first Hong Kong winners in the season’s first race and the South African looks to have the key to the sometimes unpredictable eight-year-old, who saluted in the Class Three San Francisco Handicap (1,000m).
“It was very good to win on him again,” Van Niekerk said. “I was hopeful of him. He’s a funny horse, if things aren’t going his way he’ll just drop back and be out of the race. He just wants to be happy and today he ran a very good race.”
Van Niekerk is eager to maintain his partnership with Gorgeous King after the Tony Millard-trained six-year-old pinched a run on the rails to take out the Class Three San Antonio Handicap (1,800m).
“We went hard early on and he still managed to keep up the gallop. He’s a progressive type of horse and I think he still has a few more wins in him,” he said.
Schofield, sporting a clean-shaven head, hopes victories on Massive Millennium and Elusive State can kick-start his season.
“Obviously only the one winner before today. Doubles are always good, they’re always hard to get so hopefully it gets the ball rolling and we can go on with it,” he said.
“It’s even at the moment and the winners are getting spread around a fair bit – hopefully I can pick up as many of them as I can.
“I’m hoping it’s going to stay like this for a while. Zac’s a phenomenal jockey and I’m sure he’s going to be hard to beat in the premiership but hopefully he’s not as dominant as everyone thinks.”
Massive Millennium cornered near the tail of the field before storming down the middle to win the Class Five Chicago Handicap (1,200m) and Schofield is confident he can handle a step up in class.
“Off his win today, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be competitive in Class Four with a bottom weight so we’ll see how he goes,” he said.
Elusive State won the Class Four Los Angeles Handicap (1,600m) at his first start for Millard after crossing from the Derek Cruz yard: “He seems very happy in the new stable, he’s put on a lot of substance and he looks very well so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in his next couple of runs.”