There is no other way to describe it – Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting will surely go down as the most forgettable of the Hong Kong racing season.
There were eight unremarkable winners, zero atmosphere within the empty grandstands while the conditions – it was windy, cool and drizzled virtually throughout – were dreary and uninspiring.
Since the coronavirus-enforced lockouts started a month-and-a-half ago, no meeting has missed the enthusiasm and energy of the beer garden more than this one.
The desolate vibe could not be more diametrically opposed to the scenes at the Cheltenham Festival in England, which was going on at the same time.
The fact punters still bet HK$1.1 billion just reiterates what a resilient bunch they are. Quality doesn’t necessarily matter when there are winners to be found and money to be made.
These sort of meetings – featuring one Class Five, five Class Fours and three Class Threes – are not uncommon across the ebb and flow of the season (there are 87 meetings this term), but normally there is something to get excited about.
A smart youngster coming through or a particularly meaningful moment for a participant. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this time around.
On the positive side, Saturday’s card at Sha Tin looks good – particularly the Class One – while the Hong Kong Derby field gets announced on Thursday and the prestigious HK$20 million race is just around the corner. There are better things on the horizon.
But given this is a review of the night, let’s run through the winners.
Danny Shum Chap-shing continued his good recent form, collecting an early double thanks to Break Record and Charity Wings.
The former claimed the opener, railing late for Joao Moreira while the latter broke through for his first victory of the term with Grant van Niekerk in the saddle, despite running well for most of the campaign.
David Hall missed his second straight meeting after undergoing knee surgery, but Mr Picasso would have helped ease the pain.
The veteran relished the drop back to Class Four, with Zac Purton leading all the way on him in the first section of the Tai Yuen Handicap (1,200m).
Mr Picasso has a terrific record when he goes down to Class Four, winning his past three starts in the grade at the course and distance, all with the Australian aboard. Despite that form reference, his supporters still collected a healthy $6.30.
Caspar Fownes extended his strong recent run at the city track, as E Master (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) wound back the clock to secure his first win in 13 months by taking out the fourth event.
The “King of the Valley” has now had five winners across the past three meetings at the iconic circuit while his last 11 winners have all come there.
Apprentice Victor Wong Chun has built a special relationship with Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Speed Vision and they returned to the winner’s stall together after joining forces for the first time in 11 months.
Wong spent most of that time on the sidelines after suffering injuries in a nasty trackwork fall last year, but he’s now strung together wins at back-to-back meetings.
Speed Vision rolled straight to the front and took full advantage of the rider’s five-pound claim, falling over the line to beat Victory Power.
Championship-leading trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai extended his buffer on Francis Lui Kin-wai to two as Villa Fionn snared the first section of the Class Four Thomson Handicap (1,650m).
It was the five-year-old’s second win in Hong Kong and he beat perennial bridesmaid Everyone’s Elite, who has now strung together five seconds on the trot. The win also completed a double for Purton.
Lui got that back the very next race as Massive Pocket came from midfield to salute in the seventh race to give Ho a double.
There was a minor protest from third (Smart Leader) against second (Diamond Brilliant), but stewards overruled it.
David Ferraris’ Blastoise closed out the card with a victory in the Class Three Queensway Handicap (1,800m) to complete a double for the Magic Man.
It was the four-year-old’s second victory from 11 starts, but there was also a bit of luck involved as Naboo Star was a certainty beaten as he was unable to find clear running in the straight.
And that’s a wrap on the 52nd meeting of the term. Let’s never talk about it again.