The Classic Mile ambitions might have been abandoned but exciting galloper Wellington certainly gave trainer Richard Gibson a reason to smile after a winning return at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The talented four-year-old won his first three races in fine style before failing to fire as an odds-on hope in his fourth start and a host of issues meant he hadn’t run since that effort in April.
But the Englishman kept the faith and worked through those ailments – which included tendinitis – and that patience paid off in the Class Three Long Ke Handicap (1,000m).
Wellington is back!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 26, 2020
Richard Gibson's promising four-year-old returns first-up with a win for @zpurton, taking his record to an impressive four wins from five starts. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/HuDZX32sZe
Top jockey Zac Purton settled the son of All Too Hard just off the speed before hitting the front with 400m to go and, while there were a couple of nervous moments late when the four-time champion got busy, he held on to beat the in-form Ping Hai Bravo by two and a quarter lengths.
Winning at the top of Class Three after a lengthy lay-off is never easy but the fact he did augurs well for the rest of his campaign.
“This horse has never really had an injury but was not 100 per cent right, so we just had to be patient,” Gibson said. “We know he’s a good horse but we just had to be patient. Today, I think he hit the front a bit soon and he got a bit tired, but that’s normal – he hadn’t raced in a while.
“He’s won well off a heavy weight, he’s going to be slimmer and trimmer next time out.
“You can tell by my vibe he’s been a real frustrating horse. We’ve had such a good horse in our care and we just knew we had to take our time. The guys have done a great job and it’s good to see him win today.”
While the result takes Wellington’s record to four wins from five starts and ensures he has the necessary ratings points to qualify for next month’s Classic Mile, the trainer believes he is better suited sticking to sprints.
“Last year we were targeting the [Classic Mile] but I’d be surprised if he gets the trip,” he said.
Given all the challenges involved in getting Wellington back to the track, Gibson was quick to credit mafoo Josephine Kwok Wing-ki – nicknamed “KK” – for all the special care she provided the horse.
“I’ve got many people to thank but the number one person to thank is the mafoo – KK – she cared for him for so many days and I want to dedicate this victory to her because we don’t talk about the grooms enough,” he said.
“She’s always been my best groom since I’ve been in Hong Kong, she’s looked after all my best horses.
“This horse has had quite a lot of issues and she’s spent so much time with the horse. Of course we have a team behind who I have to thank – the vets and everything – but the person who did so much extra care is KK, so I thank her very much.”
Wellington’s win takes Gibson’s tally to five for the season while it completed a double on the day for Purton, who also tasted success with Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Clear Choice.