A first Class Two victory, a HK$1 million “high achievement bonus” and an unassailable lead in the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge – Wednesday night was good a one for Danny Shum Chap-shing’s talented sprinter Grateful Heart.
The four-year-old son of Written Tycoon continued his march through the grades, rattling off his fourth win from his past five starts in the Cheung Sha Wan Handicap (1,000m) and lining the pockets of connections.
The Million Challenge rewards consistency at Happy Valley in the first half of the season with runners accruing 15 points for a win, six for second, four for third and three for fourth in all races Class Three and above.
Grateful Heart now has 66 points, 24 clear of Scores Of Fun, who finished third in the last race, with the Classic Cup-bound Delightful Laos in third on 39.
Given the competition finishes on February 24, there isn’t enough time for the others to close the gap, meaning his HK$650,000 first prize is sitting on ice for him.
“I think he’s got the Million Challenge already, he’s too high, the second horse is too far back,” said Shum, who also had a win earlier in the night with Dynamic Eagle. “He’s good, he’s fast, he’s very suitable for Happy Valley.”
Grateful Heart pinged out of the gates to sit outside early leader Multimillion in the short-course contest before bursting clear of his rivals at the top of the straight.
“He’s obviously very quick and there were some fast horses in that race and even though he didn’t begin the cleanest, he was still right up there from an inside gate. He could have led easily but I was happy for him to travel outside the leader,” jockey Zac Purton said.
“He gave me a good kick. The horse has learned a lot. He wouldn’t change his legs before but he’s learned to do that. Danny has done a good job with him.”
The win completed a double for Purton, who also tasted success with the David Hall-trained Classic Posh in the second race.
But the Australian was outdone on the night by rival Joao Moreira, who collected a quartet, which included a drought-breaking win on King Dragon in the Class Four Stonecutters Island Handicap (1,650m).
Trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung had gone 75 runners without a winner – his previous one came with V Chevaliers on December 16 – but it didn’t come easily.
It was a messy race highlighted by a lot of interference on the first turn and King Dragon was one of the worst affected, checked hard after Fortune Happiness got squeezed.
But the Magic Man maintained his composure, settling in the second half of the field before making his move with 500m to go, swooping around the outside to beat Kiram and Maldives, who looked to throw away the race with a strange sidestep about 100m from home.
It was a well-deserved breakthrough for King Dragon after placing in eight of his first 16 starts.
“[The incident on the first turn] was quite dangerous,” Man said. “I’m very happy because Joao didn’t give up on him after the last run, he still wanted to ride him again and he delivered for us here. His rating is OK, he can win again.”
Moreira also saluted aboard Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s Hercules, the John Size-trained Incanto Prepared and Capital Star for championship-leading handler Caspar Fownes.