Everyone loves awards – here’s some unique ones from the 2018-19 Hong Kong racing season.
Best ride: Douglas Whyte – Uncle Steve
While it was not a winning ride, Whyte’s effort on John Moore’s first-starter needs to be seen to be believed.
It was Whyte’s final ride in an illustrious career and he was dealt a seemingly impossible hand with barrier 14 but somehow managed to park the four-year-old midfield on the rail by the time the turn had come.
Uncle Steve and Whyte were carrying the weight of the grandstand with fans piling in to back the greatest jockey Hong Kong had seen for the very last time.
He was sent out a $7.1 chance, when $71 would have been more fitting of his chances.
However, 200m from home, he looked set to send Whyte out a winner when he loomed up before faltering late.
The final ride of @DJWhyteJockey's career & it's a fine one from Gate 14 on Uncle Steve... But the win goes to Right Choice, sealing trebles for @SilvDSousa & Frankie Lor. #HKracing #endofanera— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 10, 2019
“I’m happy with the way every horse ran and the way I rode every horse – especially the last race from gate 14. When I was winning championships I was riding races like that,” 13-time champion Whyte summed up.
“So to finish like that I’m leaving on a high.”
It’s fitting that Uncle Steve will be one of the first horses that Whyte receives next season when he begins his career as a trainer.
Zac Purton: Exultant in the Group One Gold Cup (2,000m) for his mid-race winning move; Hurricane Hunter for his last-to-first effort weaving through the field.
Hugh Bowman: Furore in the Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) – Bowman managed to secure a gun spot before the first bend from barrier 12 before peeling out at the perfect time to race away with the most coveted prize.
Best celebration: Masami Matsuoka (Win Bright) QE II Cup
The Japanese jockey stood up in the irons and gave one of the great salutes to the crowd after causing a $48 upset in the Group One QEII Cup in April.
Even with the likes of Exultant and Lys Gracieux charging at him, Matsuoka expertly guided Win Bright home and saved his best work for after the line.
The win caused stirring scenes in the mounting yard with trainers and connections understandably excited.
The battler’s horse of the year: Clement Legend
The Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained stayer entered the season with a rating of just 26 after failing to fire a shot last season.
He now finishes this season with a rating of 63 after reeling off five wins and three placings in 10 starts.
The four-year-old was able to do it at both Sha Tin and Happy Valley with Shum even racing his rock-solid galloper at Conghua during the first-ever race day in mainland China in March.
Shum credits Conghua for turning Clement Legend’s career around with the trainer taking full advantage of the world-class training facilities there.
Uninspiring horse of the year award: Dragon Regiment
The four-year-old was beaten a combined 146 lengths in his nine starts and only beat 13 runners home in that time.
After starting the season off a rating of 52, Dragon Regiment will be banished by the Jockey Club with that number now falling to 19 (all horses below a rating of 20 are compulsory retired).
Even a midseason stable change from Benno Yung Tin-pang to Manfred Man Ka-leung was not enough to turn his performances around.
Rocket Go: finished the season with an official rating of zero, the lowest possible after finishing 14 lengths last in Sunday’s season finale.
Heavenly Thought: The four-year-old was a Group Three winner in Australia where he beat home subsequent stablemate Dark Dream but has struggled hugely in Hong Kong. In his 11 starts, Heavenly Thought has not collected a cent of prize money for his owners who no doubt shelled out significant money and had dreams of Derby glory.
Best training performance: Tony Millard with Elusive State
The former Derek Cruz-trained galloper looked set for a career in Class Five before Millard gave him a new lease on life on the all-weather surface.
Millard has been supremely patient with the five-year-old, reeling off four consecutive wins and even flirting with a trip to Dubai in March before faltering in his last start in March.
He capped off the season with an against-the-odds third place in the final race at Sha Tin, setting him up for a bumper 2019-20.
Elusive State now boasts a rating of 93 and will be one of the premier dirt horses next season.
The Olivier Doleuze award for best dressed: Alexis Badel
Badel may have only ridden in Hong Kong for three months but the Frenchman set the standard when it came to attire.
His tailored suits were a stand-out and he often accompanied them with sunglasses – even if the sun had already gone down.
Badel was often ribbed by his riding colleagues about wearing designer jeans during morning trackwork and trials. It’s only fair he is rewarded with the gong named in honour of his compatriot, who was the most stylish man in Hong Kong racing for more than a decade.
Umberto Rispoli: the Italian has a range of flamboyant suits and likes to flaunt them at Sha Tin.
Biggest character: Caspar Fownes
Fownes wears his heart on his sleeve and should be commended for it.
The affable trainer is renowned for cheering on his horses at Happy Valley and Sha Tin and lets off an almighty roar when they manage to perform.
Fownes’ was rightfully chuffed with the performance of Rise High when he won in Class One company in March and then backed it up with an even bigger celebration when he managed to run a slashing second to Exultant in the Group One Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) in May.
Biggest spat: Tony Millard and Zac Purton
There is no love lost between the pair and they have not been on speaking terms as part of a long-running feud.
Millard is the only trainer Purton did not ride for in his prolific 2018-19 season and has not since Sichuan Boss in June 2017. They have combined a total of three times since May 2015.
Purton rode Millard’s best horse in Hong Kong – Ambitious Dragon – to two Group One victories in the 2012-13 season before the falling out.
The pair have traded barbs throughout the season with Millard lighting the fuse in Singapore ahead of the Group One Kranji Mile when he referred to Purton as “that jockey”.
Purton returned serve later in the year when talking about the support he had received from various stables.
“There are many stables that I don’t have the support from that I would like to have and there are a couple of stables that I don’t ride for and one in particular, but my life is better without him. I won’t put my foot in his stable,” he said.
It’s fair to say the feeling is mutual.
The money-muncher award: Superich
Frankie Lor Fu-chen’s galloper is no dud but he sure cost punters this season.
After winning two of his first four starts last season, Superich went on to win at the prohibitive odds of $1.5 in October before being beaten at $1.5, $1.7 and $1.6 in his next three starts.
The pain for punters didn’t stop there. He was sent out a $4.8 second-favourite in the Classic Mile in January where he managed to run seventh before coming back to be beaten at $2.7 in Class Two company in February.
The son of Red Giant has ability for all to see and could well go on to Group level success if he gets it all together, but punters are sure to be scared by him.
Chairman Lo: John Size’s grey did not win in 12 starts but was sent around at $1.8, $2.2, $3.2, $3.5, $4.3 and $2.9.
The punters’ pal – Grant van Niekerk
The rookie South African began his Hong Kong career with a bang, riding two winners on his first day and has kept up his good form for most of the season.
Van Niekerk was head and shoulders above any other jockey when it came to return on investment.
A straight $10 bet on every one of his rides would have given you a profit of $2,119.
The best of the trainers was Danny Shum Chap-shing who returned $212.50.