South African jockey Callan Murray put his name up in lights at an important time in his fledging Hong Kong career on Wednesday night, kicking home a winner with his only ride.
While a host of star jockeys from all over the globe may have had their attention fixed firmly on the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship, the 22-year-old’s victory was a significant moment in his riding career nonetheless, especially with the eyes of the world watching.
Murray faced a fight to retain the ride on the David Ferraris-trained The Sylph going into the race, but paid back the faith shown in him when he kicked after forcing his way clear at the top of the Happy Valley straight.
“It feels great, obviously it’s been a little bit of a tough start in Hong Kong but I am so glad to get one on the board here, especially since I only had one runner tonight. It’s good to go home a winner,” he said.
“It can be disappointing going to the races with only one ride but it is certainly a bit of a relief when they come home on top.”
With 60 days between his first and second winners of the season, Murray’s situation in Hong Kong was becoming dire with his license due to expire in February next year.
However, Murray said he was not one to get down on himself, frequently putting his hand up for extra trackwork and keeping his head held high during his time in Hong Kong so far.
A perfect start to LONGINES IJC night at Happy Valley for @callan_murray as The Sylph scores for just the second time at the 52nd attempt. The IJC races are R4, 5, 7 and 8. #HKJC #IJC #HKIR pic.twitter.com/IO2xBD7knm— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 5, 2018
“It’s tough but you just have to put up, especially when you’re not getting the best mounts but you just have to keep trying your best and keep positive because you won’t be riding your best otherwise,” he said.
“If there was any night that I wanted to have a winner, it was tonight or on Sunday so let’s hope we can do it again.”
Facing a wall of horses at the top of the Happy Valley straight along with his ride wanting to lay in, Murray produced a skilful ride to pull The Sylph towards the middle of the track where he was able to power home.
“He ran well in the 1,200m race two starts back and then over at Sha Tin, it was really wet that day and I don’t think he went around that well,” he said.
“He has had to be competitive in Class Five so it was nice to see him get the job done today, I had a heap of horse at the top of the straight and when I switched out he quickened well. It was [tricky], because he wanted to lay in a bit but when I got out, he kicked so strongly.”
First-time IJC contender Matthew Poon Ming-fai also got his night off to a flying start riding two of the first three winners.
The 162-1 double on Super Euro Star and Split of a Second rocketed Poon to joint third on the jockeys’ premiership alongside fellow local Vincent Ho Chak-yiu who also had a winner on the night.
Poon’s challenge this season has not been finding winners, but keeping himself out of the stewards room and it was fitting that South Australian racing’s chief steward Johan Petzer was in the crowd to see the former prodigious apprentice ply his trade in Hong Kong.
“He’s showing off now,” Petzer laughed following his win on $17 shot Split of a Second in the Class Four Japan Handicap (1,200m).
Poon gained a cult following during his time in Australia as an apprentice where he was crowned South Australia’s leading apprentice jockey in 2015-16.
John Size’s promising three-year-old Country Star ($1.9) also made good on a last start beating as a $1.5 favourite when Australian Hugh Bowman guided the gelding to his fourth win in six career starts while Karis Teetan went back-to-back on the Tony Cruz-trained Super Chic ($5.7) in the Class Two France Handicap (1,800m) after fending off Neil Callan on Red Warrior ($2.7).