A Sha Tin all-dirt meeting is about as far away from feature racing as you can get in Hong Kong, but a couple of Group winners from Australia made Wednesday night theirs.
The John Size-trained Gunnison, who captured the Group Two Todman Stakes in Sydney in March 2017, cruised away to capture the Class Two event while Peter Ho Leung’s Zilong, who won the Group Three Rough Habit Plate in Brisbane in May 2017, broke through for his first Hong Kong win.
Gunnison’s performance was the most visually impressive, sitting outside the lead before extending away in the straight under Joao Moreira to prevail by four lengths.
It was the consistent gelding’s first win of the term, and he deserved it, having been around the mark in his four previous runs of the campaign.
Gunnison has spent much of the last month at the Jockey Club's Conghua base and shows the benefit with a commanding success in the featured Class 2 Penfold Park Handicap. The diminutive chestnut travels powerfully throughout before storming clear under Joao Moreira. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/IvCmgXxGx7— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 19, 2018
“He’s probably a horse who likes to get his toe into the ground – his runs as a two-year-old were on wet tracks and that’s where he got his form from,” Size, who also tasted success with Raging Blitzkrieg, said.
“To come here and win a couple of races, I think he’s probably done a good job considering he came on a high mark.”
The other point of interest in the race was Fight Hero, with trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak saying he needed to see a strong performance if he was going to push on with a trip to Dubai.
The effort was somewhat inconclusive – Fight Hero was under pressure early to keep up, but he showed what he was capable of in the straight, flashing home to finish fourth, leaving Tsui with plenty to think about.
It was a tough night for punters – with both the Triple Trio and Six Up jackpotting again – and the longest-priced winner of the night was Zilong, who saluted at $20.
Dylan Mo Hin-tung managed to get the best out of the five-year-old, who had underwhelmed in his first 11 starts in his new home.
The apprentice showed he had learned from his previous effort, following Ho’s instructions to perfection as he claimed the Class Three Kowloon Park Handicap (1,800m).
Zilong has found his form after joining Peter Ho last month. The former Aussie galloper opens his Hong Kong account at the twelfth attempt - and just his second for his new handler - with a strong-galloping performance under Dylan Mo in R6 at Sha Tin. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/TRCo5fEWOY— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 19, 2018
“Last time [Mo] made a mistake, he jumped well and used him too much in the back straight – the horse doesn’t get a second wind,” Ho said.
“He performed well last year on the dirt, so I put him here and before the race I told [Mo] not to make the same mistake again. Drop him at the back, relax and let him finish and it worked.
“I also had Gran Master in the race and people were asking me why he was so disappointing, but Zilong won a Group race in Australia and Gran Master has only won in Class Four – that’s the difference.”
The closest finish of the night came in the Class Four Victoria Park Handicap (1,200m) when the Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Golden Effort fell in against Richard Gibson’s fast-finishing Joyful Contender.
@AlexisBadel has suffered more than his share of seconds this season - including some agonisingly close ones - but Danny Shum's Golden Effort finds just enough to hang on as Joyful Contender comes charging at him in R5 at Sha Tin #HKracing pic.twitter.com/uxojPQ6Jme— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 19, 2018
“We got very lucky there, a half-stride more and we’re gone,” Shum laughed.
“He cannot handle the turf, we have tried that already, but he always goes forward on the dirt, he controlled the pace. When he gets a comfortable lead, he gets better. He needs to build momentum in his races.”
The two trainers bringing up the rear in the championship race both enjoyed success with Paul O’Sullivan and Michael Chang Chun-wai collecting their fourth victories of the campaign with Mi Blanco and Star Superior respectively.
Mi Blanco (Moreira) broke through for his first victory in his 19th Hong Kong start while Star Superior (Karis Teetan) found the drop to the cellar grade to his liking, running over the top of his rivals.