The stunning consistency of Shining Ace was rewarded as John Size’s honest sprinter captured the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
The four-year-old came into the meeting with healthy lead over rivals Gentle Breeze and Flying Quest, but a second in the final race of the night ensured he took the HK$650,000 first prize and relegated his rivals to the minor placings.
The annual competition awards points to horses who perform in Class Three races and above at the city track over the first six months of the season and is always a highly sought-after title.
Incredibly, Shining Ace scored points in all nine of his starts this term – with two wins, three seconds and four thirds to his credit.
So while Chris So Wai-yin’s Invincible Missile came out on top in the Class Three King Kwong Handicap (1,200m), it was Shining Ace who earned more on the night.
“He’s been good, he came back nicely and he holds himself well,” said Size, who also won the Million Challenge last year with Country Star.
“He spent most of his time at Conghua but recently he’s been at Sha Tin, he’s seemed to cope with it all. He always runs a good race, he’s been amazing – so he’s a deserved winner.
“It’s an extra bonus for the owners and it’s an incentive for them to bring their horses here, it’s a good competition.”
Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Harmony Victory is another consistent type who enjoyed moment in the spotlight, collecting his first victory of the season after railing through to capture the Class One Shan Kwong Handicap (1,650m).
The Brazilian import had been around the mark without winning in his first four runs of the term before failing last time out in the Group Three Centenary Vase.
But Harmony Victory bounced back to form thanks to a ground-saving effort from pilot Alexis Badel, who sprinted strongly in the straight to edge out Size’s duo of Hezthewonforus and Time To Celebrate.
“It’s good to get that win, he’s a nice horse. He’s already won [almost HK$8 million] in prize money. He always tries very hard,” Shum said.
“Last run he missed the start, so we just had to forget about it. We had to pass the official barrier trial – Alexis trialled him nicely – and then we sent him here.
“They went a little bit slowly and then they sprinted home, so he’s done a good job to pick them up. Most importantly tonight, the inside is good.”
There was slightly more controversy in the other Class One on the card when odds-on favourite Amazing Star burst through the barriers before the Blue Pool Handicap (1,200m).
Zac Purton pulled him up after just 200m and he was passed fit to start, but after going straight to the front, he weakened late while Tony Cruz’s Waldorf ran over the top.
“He’s one of my favourite horses in Tony’s stable, he’s so quiet and last season I won three races on him as well as so many placing – he always tries, it’s very nice to ride horses like that,” jockey Karis Teetan said.
“I knew they went a bit quick and I knew he was going to finish off, especially from where I got him as he was in his comfort zone and I knew he was going to let down and he let down very well.”
Tony Piccone bid farewell to his maiden Hong Kong stint on a winning note with a terrific ride aboard Sunny Power in the Class Four Yik Yam Handicap (1,650m).
The Frenchman settled Francis Lui Kin-wai’s six-year-old midfield on the rail, before edging out and finding a narrow gap in the straight and then racing away to score in style.
It has to be considered a successful trip for Piccone, the 32-year-old finishing with eight wins and 18 placings from 91 starts in just two months.
Meanwhile, the Me Tsui Yu-sak-trained Very Sweet Orange helped apprentice Alfred Chan Ka-hei hit an important milestone, notching his 20th winner in Hong Kong.
The all-the-way victory means Chan’s claim will now drop from 10 pounds down to seven as of Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting.
It was also a return to form for Caspar Fownes’ new acquisition Dances With Dragon.
The gelding, a Group One winner in New Zealand, hasn’t lived up to that reputation in his new home, but there is clearly something left in the tank and he completed a double for Fownes, who also saluted with Winning Delight.