It was a brutal night for punters at Happy Valley on Wednesday night as four short-priced favourites were rolled while a 53-1 shot ensured next week’s Triple Trio and Six Up pools will hold eight figures each with massive jackpots rolling in.
If you made money, well done – you were definitely in the minority.
It looked like it could be a straightforward night on paper with Trendiful ($2.40), Champion Supreme ($2.30), Country Star ($1.50) and Red Warrior ($1.70) all looking stand-outs, but the Valley has a nasty habit of turning things on its head. Just one favourite – All You Know – saluted.
It was particularly tough meeting for the backers of Zac Purton, who was on Champion Supreme, Country Star and Red Warrior and finished the night with three seconds (two of them in head-bobbing finishes), a third and two fourths.
Frankie Lor Fu-chuen and Grant van Niekerk provided the upset of the night as Looking Good completed a stunning form turnaround to take out the Class Four Chukyo Handicap and knock most punters out of the Triple Trio and Six Up.
Looking Good lives up to his name at 53-1 in R4 at Happy Valley: Frankie Lor's gelding shows vastly-improved form under Grant van Niekerk on his debut at the city track to get the better of Golden Glory. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/W1mMokWfCp— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 14, 2018
After two terrible runs at Sha Tin, the four-year-old was unwanted in betting, jumping at $54, but a gear change and switch of track sparked him up.
“It was a big surprise, I think the blinkers and racing at Happy Valley for the first time made the difference,” Lor said.
“The last two runs were very disappointing, he looked like he needed a bit further but I tried the blinkers in the trial and he improved so I stuck to 1,200m and made the switch to Happy Valley.
“I didn’t think he could win after his two disappointing runs.”
Of course, the result meant both the Triple Trio went unbacked and the Six Up was won for just $2 – the second midweek meeting in a row that has happened – ensuring jackpots of HK$8.4 million and HK$5.9 million next week.
The win was another boost for Van Niekerk, who went on to secure a double after navigating the first two months of the season without a winner at the city track.
But when it rains, it pours and the South African continued his good run with Ambitious Heart edging out Country Star.
You wait all season for a Valley winner then three come along in a hurry! Grant Van Niekerk broke his duck here last week and doubles up tonight as Ambitious Heart gets the better of a sustained duel with 1.5 fav Country Star. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/QOrPa6T8id— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 14, 2018
“The ball seems to be rolling again now. It’s pressuring times when you’re not riding winners but I must thank the trainers for being loyal, even when the winners were scarce,” Van Niekerk said.
“Now I am going, the ball is starting to roll here, but it all comes down to the support, if you get the support it gives you a chance and I am glad my confidence is building here. With the support continuing, I am confident I will get the results.”
Derek Leung Ka-chun made a successful return from his improper riding suspension, lifting the Michael Chang Chun-wai-trained Dutch Windmill home in the opening race.
Derek Leung comes back from a 6-meeting ban with a bang as Dutch Windmill gets home in R1 at Happy Valley: The 10-1 chance shows plenty of grit to double Michael Chang's training tally for the season. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/7MqTOwWEml— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 14, 2018
“He’s a very honest horse in Class Five – he’s been a course and distance winner three times – so with the light weight, a good gate and a good jockey, he managed to win,” the trainer said.
The win was just Chang’s second of the season, but he is content to keep chipping away and picking up races where he can.
The popular trainer has 40 horses in work, now the smallest stable at Sha Tin after the departure of Michael Freedman, and 28 of them have ratings that see them compete in Class Four or Class Five.
“Honestly, I’m always happy where I am,” Chang said. “I think my stable is doing very well, it’s just the horse quality, we have many slow horses.
“So I’ll try to pick up some new blood and get some decent horses in. I’ve got a few new horses coming in from England and France.”
In a similar vein, Paul O’Sullivan and Sam Clipperton both enjoyed a welcome victory as Rule Thee got the better of Bigwood.
Could this be the first Hong meeting of the season in which both @zpurton and @KarisTeetan draw a blank? Sam Clipperton thwarts Zac in R7 as Paul O'Sullivan's Rule Thee battles home just ahead of the unlucky Bigwood. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/FEUKauQQd0— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 14, 2018
The win was the fourth of the term for Clipperton and the third for O’Sullivan, who is starting to build some momentum after a quiet start.
“We’ve got a lot of new horses and they’re just not ready,” the trainer said. “Probably more new horses than I’ve ever had before and a lot of my other horses ran well last season and they’re up there in the ratings. Anyway, you’ve just got to keep going.”
Meanwhile, Vincent Ho Chak-yiu cemented his spot in the International Jockeys’ Championship after collecting his 14th win of the season with Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s Gentle Breeze.
Vincent Ho, another returning from suspension, swoops to conquer on the progressive Gentle Breeze in R3 at the Valley. The winning rider is in hot pursuit of one of the remaining places in the LONGINES IJC on Dec 5. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/GjHNrmrcT6— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 14, 2018
Ho is now tied with Matthew Poon Ming-fai to be the leading local rider, but the latter cannot add to his tally as he is about to start a four-meeting suspension while the former already has more second-placings to his name.
“All of us want to ride in competitions like that, I’ve ridden in it before [in 2014], it was good fun,” Ho said.
Alexis Badel was the only jockey to earn the wrath of stewards, copping a two-meeting suspension for his winning ride on All You Know.