Derek Leung Ka-chun credits increased opportunities and an improved sense of self-belief for his career-best form after collecting his first treble in almost a year at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The 32-year-old sits in seventh position in the jockeys’ championship at the halfway mark of the season and is on track to set a new personal best of 40 winners, eclipsing his previous mark of 37 from 2017-18.
His haul included Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s talented first-starter Pleasant Endeavor and a double for his old boss Paul O’Sullivan with Judy’s Star and Fairly Floss, the latter dead-heating with Dragon Commander.
Leung, who last had a treble on March 14, 2020, walked out of Sha Tin with a spring in his step.
“It’s been almost a year so it’s great to get a treble again and thank you to the trainers and the owners for their support. Finally I’ve had some nice horses and was able to take advantage of the opportunities,” said Leung, who confirmed he will partner Delightful Laos in the HK$12 million Classic Cup later this month.
“This season I have more support, I’ve had more opportunities and I’ve been able to grab them. I’ve proved to myself I can do it, so I’ve got more confidence. I’m always trying to make fewer mistakes in a race and that’s turning into winners. Hopefully I can keep getting more support.”
The highlight of his day was the win of Pleasant Endeavor, the debutant rattling home to capture the Class Four Mai Po Handicap (1,000m).
Pleasant Endeavor (3yo G Redoute’s Choice x Via Africa) wins on debut for trainer P Yiu @HKJC_Racing! @NewhavenPark bred, raised and sold and @mmsnippets sold for $320k. Congratulations to all connections #ourbrandyoursuccess pic.twitter.com/TZxsV59WZp— Newhaven Park (@NewhavenPark) February 6, 2021
Yiu’s three-year-old was slow away but swept down the middle of the track to run over the top of Hurry Hurry Gain and Majestic Conqueror.
It was the win of a galloper who has a lot of upside.
“He has some ability that horse – he’s not just a sprinter. In the future I think 1,400m or even 1,600m will be better for him,” Leung said.
“The draw [four] helped him because when it is the ‘C’ course, there is always a traffic jam on the outside. My horse didn’t have much early speed so if I stayed inside I was going to be held up.
“I think he’s still got some ratings points in hand, hopefully he can keep improving and win some more races.”
The barrier also played a role in his second victory with Judy’s Star, who was able to enjoy a cosy run in transit after coming up with gate one in the Class Four Lau Fau Shan Handicap (1,200m).
“Finally we had a good draw. When I rode him in his past few starts we had bad draws but he wasn’t beaten too far,” said Leung, who is a two-time winner of the Tony Cruz Award as Hong Kong’s leading local jockey. “This time I was able to use him and get a bit closer and he was able to win.”
It was a different story for Fairy Floss, who had to do it the hard way in the Class Five Hung Shui Kiu Handicap (1,650m) on the dirt.
Leung went back from barrier 14 before making his move on the turn and settling into a fight with Dragon Commander in the straight.
Joao Moreira’s mount looked to hit the front late but Fairy Floss rallied under pressure and the judge couldn’t split them on the line.
“When Joao came up to me in the last 150m, my horse really started to fight back. I felt like the horse was really sticking his neck out in the last 10 strides and I was going to beat him but the bob of the heads meant it was a dead-heat so maybe we were a bit unlucky,” Leung said.
“It’s a good result for the horse because we’ve spent a long time trying to get him to relax in the morning.”