Hollie Doyle fell short in her quest to become the first female winner of the International Jockeys’ Championship but she made her presence felt at Happy Valley on Wednesday night all the same, saluting on smart youngster Harmony N Blessed.
Doyle was considered a leading chance in the IJC but failed to register a point in the opening three legs – something that was quickly forgotten when she snared the final leg to finish equal third behind winner Zac Purton.
After landing 142 victories in Britain to finish fourth in the jockeys’ championship and winning her first Group One, it was the perfect way to round out 2020 for Doyle.
“It’s unbelievable, I knew I had a good chance on this horse but you need a lot of things to go right,” said the 24-year-old, who became the first woman to ride a winner in Hong Kong since Kei Chiong Ka-kei in July 2017.
“It’s just a huge privilege for [boyfriend] Tom [Marquand] and I to be asked [to participate in the IJC] and after a great season, it’s the icing on the cake.”
Harmony N Blessed was touted as the prized IJC ride from the moment entries came out and the four-year-old was by far the shortest favourite across the four races, jumping at $2.10.
After failing to finish top-six in her first four rides at the tricky city circuit, Doyle handled the expectation with aplomb to deliver a three-quarter-length victory aboard Harmony N Blessed.
“He jumped well, I didn’t have to ask much of him early on. He settled on the girth of the leader really nicely and the further I was getting, the better [he went],” she said.
“He’s a very big, strong horse, he finds the track sharp enough but it’s ability that got him through.”
The David Hayes-trained Harmony N Blessed made it two wins from as many starts and Doyle is confident the Australian handler has a nice horse on his hands.
“I spoke to David about him afterwards and I think he’s got a good future ahead of him,” Doyle said, adding that she’ll return to Hong Kong in a flash if given the opportunity.
“[They were] very clean races, very fair draws among all of us jockeys and I know there weren’t any crowds but I felt there was a good atmosphere still. If you’ll have me back, that would be great.”
The IJC undercard was a mixed bag, with Purton getting his eye in early by ringing up his 1,200th Hong Kong winner with a running double before going on to claim the big prize.
He opened his account with victory aboard Francis Lui Kin-wai’s Run The Table in the Class Five Australia Handicap (1,650m), before sharing the night’s second event when his mount Speedy Optimist dead-heated with Alexis Badel’s Great Harvest in the Class Five Brazil Handicap (1,200m).
Joao Moreira, who finished second in the IJC, also got in on the act early, snaring the Class Four France Handicap (1,650m) atop the John Size-trained Incanto Prepared.
As the IJC took a breather for race six, Derek Leung Ka-chun grabbed the chance to put his name up in lights with victory aboard Wood On Fire for Peter Ho Leung in the Class Four Mauritius Handicap (1,200m).
Leung then returned in the final race to ring up his double by delivering the biggest surprise of the evening, with Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Glorious Artist taking out the Class Two United Kingdom Handicap (1,800m) at $69.