Addressing your thoughts, questions and statements about Hong Kong racing. Have something to say? Send a tweet to @SCMPRacingPost.
Stylish stuff from Neil Callan, who threads Jolly Convergence through a gap on the inside to land race two at Happy Valley – @HongKong_Racing
The Irishman produced a peach of a ride to prevail aboard the 28-1 chance – it was the difference between winning and losing – and he celebrated in style, standing tall in the irons and saluting after crossing the line.
It has been a tough season for the “Iron Man”, that was just his 11th winner, and a quick flick through the record books show that seven of them, including all four of his victories in 2019, have come at the Valley.
But Callan is not the only jockey whose record at the city track is far superior to Sha Tin – of those riders to collect double-digit winners this season, three others also fit the bill.
Vincent Ho Chak-yiu (17 winners to 14), Victor Wong Chun (17 to 13) and Matthew Chadwick (nine to five) are in exactly the same boat, more winners at Happy Valley despite having many more rides at Sha Tin. And funnily enough – all four had winners on Wednesday night.
Given the disparity in races at the two venues – there have been 300 at Sha Tin compared to just 197 at Happy Valley – how does it happen?
“I had this kind of thing [in 2016-17] when I finished third on the table – I went through a stage when I was riding so many winners at Happy Valley and not getting as strong a book at Sha Tin,” Callan said.
“So then everyone gets a perception in their head that ‘he’s better at Happy Valley than he is at Sha Tin’. It’s just not true.
“If you look at the book of rides you’re getting weekly over a period of say four weeks – it’s not rocket science – you can clearly see the stronger book is at Happy Valley, then it comes down to the draw.
“I like riding Happy Valley anyway because you can always take a chance and ride for luck, but when you come to Sha Tin and you don’t have a strong book, you get found out because it’s open, it’s easier to ride and normally the best horse wins.”
To test Callan’s theory, we went back through the past five meetings at each venue to see how many horses he rode started single-figure odds.
From 31 rides at Happy Valley, 10 of them had a starting price of less than $10, compared to just four of 33 at Sha Tin. Of course, the two winners he had in the past month came at the Valley. Callan is absolutely correct in his assessment.
For some jockeys, perception becomes reality. Trainers and owners clearly think riders like Callan and Chadwick do their best work at the city venue.
Luck plays more of a role at the tight-turning track, so those willing to take a punt chasing inside runs can be handsomely rewarded.
“A typical example was [Wednesday] night – Jolly Convergence wasn’t the best horse in the race – the second horse [Little Wise Man] should’ve won,” Callan said.
“He jumped well and I knew within six or seven strides we were going to get posted. So I just sat up on him, let them go and went down to the fence.
“I thought ‘we’re a length and a half further back than I wanted to be, so we’ll have to ride him for luck’. That’s what won me the race – the second horse had to go around everyone.”
The problem is it is very hard to change how people view you.
Joao Moreira has failed to secure a winner in his past three meetings at Happy Valley – even though 17 of his 22 rides have started shorter than $10 (and 10 shorter than $4) – but he is a three-time champion and has proven himself time and time again. Demand for his services is not going away any time soon.
All Callan can do is continue to get out there, work hard and hope opportunities come his way.
“Hong Kong is all about perception,” he said. “If you’re not riding winners, they don’t want to use you. I’ve been here long enough to accept that these things happen.”