Francis Lui Kin-wai is just one win behind Ricky Yiu Poon-fai in the fight for the trainers’ championship, extending his late-season resurgence with a double on Saturday.
The tight three-way tussle for the title continued at Sha Tin as the chief protagonists – Lui, Yiu and Tony Cruz – all enjoyed winners, but it was the former who made the biggest move as the only one of the trio to have multiple successes.
The 61-year-old kicked things off with Winston’s Lad (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) in the second section of the Class Four Peng Chau Handicap (1,200m) before snaring the last with $44 shot Water Diviner (Jack Wong Ho-nam).
It takes Lui to 61 winners for the term – 15 clear of his previous best from 2018-19 – and he is right in the mix to claim his maiden premiership.
“It’s exciting to be so close with only a five meetings to go,” Lui said. “I don’t have much left, but the stable is going well.
“I just try my best – I don’t want to focus too much on what Ricky or Tony are doing.”
While every win is important, it’s the unexpected ones that provide a big boost while simultaneously deflating their opponents and Water Diviner belongs in that category.
“It was a big surprise but he has that ability,” Lui said. “Sometimes it just depends on the situation and today, the pace suited him, having a light weight suited him. It’s like that at the end of the season – a lot of the horses are tired.”
Yiu had a long-priced winner of his own with Alcari capturing the Class Three Lamma Island Handicap (1,400m) at 26-1.
Matthew Poon Ming-fai was in the saddle again – he’s responsible for three of Yiu’s five wins in June, including last week’s Group Three Premier Cup with Jolly Banner – and the trainer was delighted with how the in-form 25-year-old handled the five-year-old.
“This jockey is my lucky star,” he said. “After a few races here I thought it benefited horses travelling midfield. I told [Matthew] to ride for luck and he came to the right spot.”
It was Alcari’s first victory in two years with Yiu crediting a stint at Conghua for the turnaround.
“I was surprised with the way he performed, only Conghua can explain [the improvement] – he’s a happy horse there,” he said. “Quite a few of my horses have run well since they’ve been to Conghua.”
Yiu, who is also chasing his first title, has watched on as Cruz and Lui closed the gap on him in recent meetings – the latter with 10 wins in the month, including a stunning four-timer at Happy Valley on Wednesday night – but is simply trying to control the controllables.
“It was just amazing [what happened with Francis on Wednesday night] – it was fate,” Yiu said. I will just put my head down, keep focused and do the best I can. If I do that, I won’t have any regrets.
“It could be [an important win] – every single one counts.”
Cruz remains just four wins behind Yiu after short-priced favourite Party Everyday (Karis Teetan) reinforced his love of the all-weather track with a dominant performance in the Class Four Tung Lung Chau Handicap (1,650m).
There are just five meetings remaining in the season and this battle looks set to go right down to the wire.