Vincent Ho Chak-yiu lived a childhood dream and secured his status as a world-class jockey as he and Golden Sixty carried the weight of expectation to a breathtaking victory in Sunday’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Golden Sixty was aiming to become just the second horse to sweep the four-year-old series after Rapper Dragon in 2017 and in the build up to Hong Kong’s most prestigious race, the focus had been squarely on Francis Lui Kin-wai’s rising star and his jockey.
No home-grown rider had captured the race since Tony Cruz in 1995 (Makarpura Star), while no Chinese jockey had saluted since Paul Cheng Chung-mou (Yuno When) in 1986.
This was meant to be Ho’s coronation to the elite ranks – his first major victory in Hong Kong – and he was on the $1.75 favourite. But HK$20 million races just aren’t that easy.
After settling at the tail of the field, Golden Sixty was still more than seven lengths from the leader, 289-1 shot Playa Del Puente, with 400m to go.
Golden Sixty snatches Hong Kong Derby in stunning finish to complete four-year-old series clean sweep
It was a brilliant ride on the outsider from Blake Shinn, who swept around the field with the slow early pace before shooting clear at the top of the straight to give his rivals something to catch.
But Ho – always cool, calm and collected on and off the track – just went to work, letting Golden Sixty go through his gears and encouraging him to chase down the runaway.
There was a classic “will they, won’t they” moment that had those watching at home on the edge of their seats, but they got there in the shadows of the post and the fairy tale came true.
However, there were no over the top celebrations from Ho – that’s not the 29-year-old’s style – just a huge sense of pride as he relished the moment and the accomplishment.
“It’s such an amazing feeling – my first Derby on a horse that I love that much. He’s such a good horse. Words can’t describe it to be honest,” said Ho, who grew up in Clearwater Bay and gave up showjumping to join the Jockey Club’s apprentice school.
“I think I can sleep well tonight, there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders and it’s gone.
“Thanks to the whole team for the hard work and of course the owner and trainer for supporting me. I’ve been working really hard and to win my first Derby is a dream come true.”
Over the past two seasons, Ho has established himself as the best local jockey in Hong Kong.
He is continually trying to improve himself – regularly riding abroad and taking every opportunity to grow as an individual and as a rider.
Those who follow Hong Kong racing will know he’s no flash in the pan. He collected a career-best 56 winners in 2018-19 and already has 45 almost two-thirds of the way through this campaign.
But this is his crowning achievement – this is the race that matters – and by delivering on the biggest stage in the city, he has cemented his position as one who can be counted on in the clutch.
And even better, he did it with a horse that is his own – the two have combined for all 11 of Golden Sixty’s races for 10 wins. He looks a genuine top-liner and should be a fixture in Hong Kong’s Group One races for years to come.
The connection between the rider and the horse is special.
“He’s got a good fighting heart,” Ho said. “I knew I had to wait until the last bit to ask my horse to pick up. He has the best turn of foot in the field and I just had to be patient.
“It’s been very difficult to come from behind today and for the horse to sprint like that, it’s amazing. To be able to win all of the races in the Classic Series – he’s a superstar.”
That label also applies to Golden Sixty’s jockey.
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