Leading local jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu’s stunning rise continues as the 29-year-old secured his 300th Hong Kong winner as part of a treble at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
The milestone comes less than three weeks after Ho collected the biggest win of his career when Golden Sixty captured the HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) Classic Mile – with the promise of more to come in the remaining two legs of the lucrative four-year-old series.
After finishing fourth in the championship race last season with 56 winners, Ho has now established himself as one of the best riders in the jurisdiction and is on pace to eclipse that total and set a new personal best yet again.
He combined with key supporter Francis Lui Kin-wai for his 300th and 302nd winner, driving home Massive Pocket and This Is Class respectively, saluting on Naboo Star for his former boss Caspar Fownes for number 301.
“I’m happy but the first few races I was quite disappointed, but the last three horses all ran good races,” Ho said. “I’m grateful for all the support that I get.
“Getting to 300 is not easy for a local boy for sure, Joao [Moreira] and Zac [Purton] get at least 100 per season. But there’s still a long way to go, I’m still learning and I have the heart to be up there so I’ll do it step-by-step and ride the best I can.”
Lui and Ho have collected 34 winners together since the start of the 2018-19 term, forming a lethal combination.
“He tries very hard, he’s always learning, trying to improve himself. The last two seasons he’s gone overseas to ride and he comes back even better,” Lui said.
“I don’t have to give him many instructions, he knows what to do and what I need – it is very easy.”
At the other end of the scale, Lyle Hewitson continued his recent resurgence, taking out his third winner of the term with the David Ferraris-trained Methane.
It has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride for the jockey and the horse early in their first Hong Kong seasons, perhaps best reflected by the incident at the Valley on November 6 when Methane was declared a non-runner despite crossing the line seventh in a Class Four over 1,200m after badly missing the start.
On that occasion – his second run after an eye-catching third on debut at $102 – Methane put his head down in the barriers and Hewitson called out to try and rectify the situation, but the starter pressed the button instead, stewards ultimately deciding the horse was denied a fair start.
The four-year-old was sent out a $4.40 second favourite the following race but he disappointed and Hewitson was replaced by Alexis Badel and subsequently put in the worst run of his campaign.
The South African was back aboard after that, improving with a step up to 1,400m and breaking through at his fifth official start – the Class Four Craigengower Cricket Club Challenge Cup (1,650m).
“The owner [Andrew Shuen Pak-man] was good to me but after I rode him in his second official start – we were pretty upbeat and confident – he ran a touch disappointing and it was no one’s fault,” Hewitson said.
“With the pressures in Hong Kong I lost the ride next time but he just didn’t shape up. I think he was going through a bit of a growing phase so I started doing a lot of work back home again and training him to get some stamina in his legs. His breeding says he’s definitely looking for a trip.
“He’s just started to flourish – the last 10 days, he’s been working extremely well – he was beating the sprinters back home – and we came into the race with a lot of confidence.
“When he hit the front, I had a lot of horse, he’s just a little immature. It’s a good sign, because it means he will get up to Class Three when the penny drops.”
Fellow South African jockey Grant van Niekerk enjoyed a double on the night, guiding home Me Tsui Yu-sak’s duo Good For You and Thunder Stomp.
It was another tough night financially for the Jockey Club as it battles through the fallout of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
With a partial lockout enforced at the two tracks, all off-course betting branches shut alongside a host of “telebet” hotlines, turnover dropped HK$330 million to HK$1.041 billion (US$43 million to US$134 million).