Most people – and horses for that matter – have a love-hate relationship with the Sha Tin all-weather track.
For some, it might turn out like an April Fool’s Day prank but others seem to grow a leg on it and no-one is relishing it more than Manfred Man Ka-leung at the moment.
The 62-year-old is one of the more understated trainers in Hong Kong and his overall tally is right in the middle of the pack, but he’s had more winners on the dirt than anyone else this season.
On Wednesday night, Goldie Flanker (Karis Teetan) and Utopia Life (Chad Schofield) gave him a double, bringing his total to eight for the term (plus seven seconds) – one more than Francis Lui Kin-wai.
It continued a stunning recent run from Man, who has had doubles at five of the past 13 meetings to take him to 23 winners for the term, just two behind last year’s tally with a third of the season still to go.
The trainer is a man of few words and was quick to deflect any praise.
“It’s not me, it’s the horses – the horses are in form, they’re at the right distance and the right rating,” Man said.
“Goldie Flanker dropped down from Class Three to Class Four and his form has been coming back. Utopia Life – the track conditions suited him. He ran well.
“I don’t know what it is about the track, I’m just lucky.”
Teetan is another who performs well on the dirt and he proved that again with a treble.
He opened the night with Benno Yung Tin-pang’s General Trump, added Goldie Flanker in the middle and closed proceedings with the Me Tsui Yu-sak-trained Mongolian King.
The Mauritian’s total of nine for the term is second only to championship leader Joao Moreira, who tasted success with Righteous Doctrine from the Michael Chang Chun-wai stable to take him to 15.
Hidden Spirit is one who has found his niche at a very specific part of the surface – the 1,650m course.
Paul O’Sullivan’s five-year-old collected the Class Five Tung Wan Handicap under the guidance of Neil Callan to bring his record to four wins from six starts at the course and distance.
To put that in context, he’s got just two placings from the other 17 starts in his Hong Kong career.
So how did the trainer stumble across the trick to unlock some wins out of Hidden Spirit?
“It’s basically trial and error,” O’Sullivan said. “If you run him over 1,650m on the grass he will not go. He’ll run last.
“He just appreciates the surface and he’s found his niche. Tonight they went fast enough, so a lot of factors come into it. Class Five, 1,650m, on the dirt.
“At the end of last season he nearly dropped out through the system. He won his last race and that kept him in the game. Hopefully he can stay in Class Five after that win.”
Derby-winning trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai edged to within one win of Ricky Yiu Poon-fai in the race for the title with Thou Shall Sing landing a plunge in the second event.
It was the 20th winner for the combination of Lui and jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu this term.
The upset of the night came in the form of Righteous Mate, who ran over the top of his rivals in the fifth race thanks to the help of Brazilian jockey Vagner Borges at 92-1.
The result ensured the triple trio and six-up win bonus jackpot to next week’s Happy Valley card.