Affable trainer Chris So Wai-yin feared he would not make it in Hong Kong during his first day on the job so his relief was clear for all to see when he notched up his 200th career winner on Saturday at Sha Tin.
The 50-year-old showed up to the first meeting of the 2013-14 season with just 23 horses in his stable after working as an assistant trainer under legendary horseman Tony Cruz.
So admitted he had come a long way since he first started after his classy galloper Tianchi Monster romped to a two-length victory in the Class Three Fung Wo Handicap (2,000m).
“I was a bit nervous, when I first started, at the first day meeting I only had 23 horses in my stable,” he said.
“I was panicking because everyone else had 60. Slowly after three or four weeks I won my maiden as a trainer so I picked up the numbers and I eventually had 39 winners.”
So has been a model of consistency since he started in Hong Kong, collecting no less than 27 winners in his five previous seasons with a peak of 52.
His four-year-old Tianchi Monster was given a gun run by champion jockey Zac Purton after sitting midfield on the rail before weaving a passage while rounding the turn.
He was able to beat home the John Moore-trained duo of Grand Chancellor and Helene Charisma in a dominant display that marked him as a horse to watch in the future.
The “cheap” horse was bought out of New Zealand after winning back-to-back races, including in Listed company.
“The horse won over this distance in New Zealand already, the owner picked it from New Zealand, he won 1,600m, he won 2,000m that’s why you see my plan has been to step up from 1,600m to 1,800m to 2,000m,” he said.
“Zac said to put the hood on and it has helped a lot, he’s a good judge.
“He’s been more relaxed and hits the line well, I am pretty happy and the owners were very happy, they were here.”
Pressed on his future ambitions as a trainer, So said he was determined to win high-quality races in Hong Kong.
Another notable training milestone at Sha Tin as Chris So notches his 200th success: @zpurton doubles up on the day as Tianchi Monster, sporting a hood for the first time, lands R8 decisvely #HKracing pic.twitter.com/oqu0f7W5k3— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 29, 2018
So lamented the fact he feels like he is often “stuck” in Class Four races, saying he would like to race more frequently at the top end.
“I am always racing in the Class Four 1,400m to 1,600m,” So said.
He was not the only milestone man at Sha Tin on the day, with South African Tony Millard notching up his 600th winner as well.
After waiting over a month between winners, Millard was not on course for his milestone, travelling overseas over the Christmas period.
Millard’s four-year-old Pearl Champion defied being posted wide for most the trip in the Class Four Chun Shek Handicap (1,400m) to win strongly as a $2.6 favourite.
In-form jockey Silvestre de Sousa remained calm throughout and eased the son of Rip Van Winkle to the front to eventually win by two lengths.