For Alfred Chan Ka-hei, years of hard work paid off the moment Care Free Prince crossed the line to secure his first Hong Kong victory.
Riding a winner at Sha Tin was a dream, so Sunday’s moment was the culmination of a long journey that saw him learning his craft in New Zealand and Australia.
Despite having moments when he thought about throwing in the towel, Chan persevered and now all of those challenges seem worth it.
“It was quite hard overseas, I was away for nearly four years,” Chan said.
“I kind of wanted to give up but finally I got back here. Now after having my first winner all my hard work has paid off. I feel very grateful for everything I learned overseas and I can use it here today and in the future.”
There is always expectation on a new apprentice and the need to make a good impression and Chan was feeling it after three close seconds in his first two meetings.
“I was very excited when I won – finally I can release the pressure,” he said.
“Every morning at trackwork people say ‘you can win this race’ but I just had to let it happen and not put any extra pressure on myself.”
But once the 24-year-old secured the first victory on Manfred Man Ka-leung’s Care Free Prince, he followed up with a second win as he guided the Tony Cruz-trained California Fortune to victory. Both horses led all the way – typical for 10-pound claimers in Hong Kong.
But the monkey is off his back and now he can just focus on becoming the best rider he can and he is well-placed to do it with star trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen as his mentor.
“I can probably say he is the greatest person I have ever met in my life. He doesn’t put on any pressure, he lets people do their jobs so everyone works happy as a team and has the motivation to want the stable to be good,” Chan said.
“Everyone respects him but he also respects every single staff member as well. He is a gracious man.
“During the morning we talk a lot – about every single horse. He teaches me what I should do in a race or we discuss what rides I should take and that’s very important. I have learned a lot from him.”
Lor has been investing plenty of time in his apprentice and is confident he will continue to grow.
“I think now he has got the two winners, the pressure should be much less on him,” Lor said.
“You could just tell when you were with him he really wanted to win his first race and now he has got that I think he will be better.
“I kept telling him not to worry because he is claiming 10 pounds, he will win easily. When you have 10 pounds, I have every trainer asking if they can use my boy, so sometimes I have to pick some nice ones for him.”
While it was a day to savour for Chan, it did come at a cost as he copped a two-meeting suspension for careless riding on California Fortune. He will miss the meetings on April 28 and May 5. He was also hit with a HK$2,000 fine for presenting himself to weigh out in the incorrect colours before the second race.
Fellow apprentice Victor Wong Chun was also outed for two days for careless riding as well as a HK$15,000 fine for his effort on Fantastic Fabio in the fourth race. He will be out of action on April 17 and 22.
Santa is coming to Hong Kong
Australia’s best sprinter Santa Ana Lane is making the trip to Hong Kong for the Group One FWD Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m).
The Anthony Freedman-trained six-year-old recorded his fifth Group One victory in the T J Smith Stakes at Randwick on Saturday, ensuring he will contest the Sha Tin feature on April 28.
“He proved [on Saturday] there is no sprinter in the land that can match him on his day,” stable spokesman Sam Freedman said on Sunday.
“The plan is he will head to Hong Kong for the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.”
He is likely to be joined by compatriot Harlem, who is prepared by two-time Hong Kong champion trainer David Hayes, with the Australia Cup champ set to run in the Group One QE II Cup (2,000m).
The fields for Champions Day will be announced on Wednesday.
Melbourne Cup campaign for Gold Mount?
Gold Mount could embark on a Melbourne Cup campaign after being transferred out of the Richard Gibson stable.
After running fourth to Cross Counter in the Group Two Dubai Gold Cup (3,200m) at Meydan on World Cup night, connections decided to send him to Ian Williams in England as he continues his career.
There are just three 2,400m races in Hong Kong a season, so there just aren’t enough options for the gelding.
“We’ve got no race programme for him here so he’ll have a staying campaign in Europe and who knows, who might even make the Melbourne Cup,” Gibson said.
Gold Mount has all the makings of a genuine stayer, winning four races in Britain before making the move to Hong Kong – three of them over 2,000m and beyond.
He finishes his stint in Hong Kong with three wins from 18 starts, but did place twice at Group One level last season.
McDonald set to ride on Champions Day
Leading Sydney jockey James McDonald looks set to make another hit-and-run mission to Hong Kong with John Moore offering him the ride on Eagle Way in the Group One QE II Cup.
Eagle Way flashed home to finish second to stablemate Beauty Generation in the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy (1,600m).
“I have asked James McDonald to come up and ride him, subject to the owner of course,” Moore said. “I want him to come up for the day to ride him and few others.”
That is bad news for Umberto Rispoli, who partnered the six-year-old on Sunday, but the Italian was pleased with the run.
“It was a massive run from the back, we know he is a horse who loves 2000 metres so that’s a nice effort at the mile; he was beaten by the champ, so a good performance,” Rispoli said.
The only previous time @umbyrispoli was booked for Green Card he was dumped going to post and the horse withdrawn: 14 months later, the Italian steers the 6yo to a 2nd win from his last 3 starts. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/QhmklnZMuw— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 7, 2019
The popular jockey didn’t go home empty-handed, tasting success with the Moore-trained Green Card in the Class Three Peel Handicap (1,200m).
It was the first time Rispoli and Moore combined for a victory in their 45th attempt together.