Punters backed boom sprinter Joyful Fortune as if he was unbeatable, but in-form jockey Alexis Badel didn’t buy into the hype and rolled the $1.30 favourite with the giant Ping Hai Bravo.
After a dominant debut win in July which had some ratings experts calling him the next big thing, Joyful Fortune made his much-anticipated return at Sha Tin on Saturday in the Class Three Panasonic Thermo Ventilator Handicap (1,000m), but it didn’t go to plan.
The David Hall-trained four-year-old jumped cleanly for new rider Zac Purton – who had muscled in and replaced Blake Shinn aboard the talented type – but he didn’t ping away from his rivals when placed under pressure with 400m to go.
Joyful Fortune had to work hard to get past Flying Genius, but he was left a sitting duck for the fast-finishing Ping Hai Bravo, who stormed over the top late to grab the prize.
The fans on course were shocked at the outcome with most expecting the young gun to continue his march up the ratings.
But given it was his first run in 132 days, it is not worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater – he can bounce back.
When asked to assess Joyful Fortune’s run, Hall replied succinctly: “disappointing”.
One man who didn’t think the race was a fait accompli was Badel, who had full faith that John Size’s gelding could get the job done, despite starting at $22.
“I was actually very confident – I thought it was one of my best chances of the day,” the Frenchman said. “What I have learned in Hong Kong is that nothing is predictable. Anything can happen. So you just need to believe in yourself.
“He jumped well, I was a little bit outpaced for maybe 50-100m, but every time I put my horse under a little bit of pressure, he responded.
“I was pretty sure he was going to be OK over 1,000m. I know sometimes horses can come from behind at this trip and the pace was obviously very fast. My horse kept fighting to the line – it was a strong run from him.
“The race unfolded exactly like I thought it would.”
Weighing in at 1,311 pounds, Ping Hai Bravo is one of the biggest horses in Hong Kong and he needs some space to build his momentum.
The four-year-old had been around the mark in three previous runs this season but had struggled to find the space required when it mattered and it prompted his trainer to make a change.
“He’s been very unlucky in his last few races – he just hasn’t had room. He’s just such a big horse,” Size said. “Out of frustration I thought I would run him down the straight where there is plenty of room and maybe he won’t have any bad luck. It paid off.”
The win capped a big day for Badel, who collected his fourth Hong Kong treble.
The 30-year-old tasted success earlier in the day with Chris So Wai-yin’s Super Red Dragon and Namjong Sings from the Danny Shum Chap-shing stable.
Badel now has 15 winners for the term – including 10 from the past month – and sits in fifth position on the jockeys’ championship.
“It’s great to have three winners. I was quite confident I had a strong card before the races,” he said. “I’m very happy to deliver.”