Ka Ying Star secured a much-deserved feature win in the Group Three Lion Rock Trophy (1,600m) as Chad Schofield set a new personal best for wins in a season and Tony Cruz continued to make a run at the trainers’ championship.
Regularly tasked with the heavy lifting against Hong Kong’s elite gallopers, the honest Ka Ying Star rarely runs a bad race, but often finds one or two better than him.
The five-year-old has placed twice at Group One level this season – third in the Stewards’ Cup and second in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup – while also collecting two Group Two seconds.
But Sunday was his moment to shine, taking control of the Group Three from the start and holding off the gallant Southern Legend and Fast Most Furious on the line to snap a winning drought of 13 months.
“He deserved that – he’s been running a lot of good races but hadn’t been able to get a win on the board,” Cruz said of the gelding, who was rated Hong Kong’s ninth best horse coming into the meeting.
“I thought we had to dictate this race and once we did and everything went his way, I thought he would be very hard to run down.”
It was a well-executed ride from Chad Schofield, who judged the splits beautifully to ensure Ka Ying Star had enough left in the tank for the finish.
“To be honest, I did think I would establish the lead easier and earlier than I did, I was made to work a little bit by Time To Celebrate,” Schofield said. “Once I got to the fence I was able to back it off and really rate the horse.
“Time To Celebrate came and joined me quite early on the bend and, if anything, it helped my horse just switch on a bit.
“I’ve ridden him before and he’s really lazy when he’s left alone out in front, but today he was able to see the horse in the corner of his eye and it spurred him on a little bit.
“He travelled into the straight and he was strong to the line. It was lucky that Beauty Generation wasn’t in the race and he could have his turn. He has been running well for the past two seasons.”
Southern Legend was typically brave, a narrow second with 133 pounds on his back after winning the Group One Champions Mile, while the disappointment of the race was favourite Beauty Legacy, who again failed to settle and dropped out to finish eighth.
The win was Schofield’s fourth at Group level in Hong Kong and he capped off the day with a victory on Chris So Wai-yin’s Mr Croissant in the Class Two Amah Rock Handicap (1,200m), giving him his 39th success of the term, eclipsing his previous best of 38 from 2017-18.
“You always want to keep doing better, so hopefully we can just keep raising the bar and pushing on and improving,” the 26-year-old said. “I set the goal of 50 [for the season], but I’ve had a quieter month so that will make it tough, but that’s still the target.”
After 11 runs for the campaign, Ka Ying Star will now enjoy a break before heading towards all those 1,400m-1,600m features again, including the Group One Hong Kong Mile.
“There’s nothing until next season really, so we’ll just follow the programme,” Cruz said. “We’ll try to get better results.”
Ka Ying Star’s win lifted Cruz’s number of winners to 52, just five behind championship leader Ricky Yiu Poon-fai with 12 meetings left.
Can the man who won the trainers’ title in 1999-2000 and 2004-05 charge home and collect a third?
“I’m going to put the pedal to the metal,” Cruz said with a smile.