Antoine Hamelin is heading into his first BMW Hong Kong Derby full of confidence after collecting a double at Sha Tin on Sunday while also securing the ride on a top chance in the HK$24 million feature.
The Frenchman piloted Ping Hai Bravo and Flying Bonus to victory but his biggest win might have come a week earlier when he found out he’d be aboard Lucky Express for 11-time champion trainer John Size in the Derby on March 21.
After riding horses that started at triple-figure odds in the first two legs of the Classic Series – The Summit ($244) and Sea Of Life ($113) – he now jumps aboard a genuine hope with Lucky Express rated a $12 chance in overseas fixed-odds markets.
Lucky Express finished second in the Classic Mile and then had no luck in the Classic Cup, held up for a run for most of the straight before coming eighth, less than three lengths from the winner Healthy Happy.
Karis Teetan was aboard on both of those occasions but has now secured the mount on Douglas Whyte’s Russian Emperor and Hamelin is delighted to get the call-up.
“I’m very excited and privileged to ride in this race. Mr Size sent me a message and of course I said yes,” he said. “I’ll be trying my best and hopefully we can get the win.”
After a slow start to his first full-time stint in Hong Kong, Hamelin has found his groove recently and now has 12 winners from his past 13 meetings, taking him to a total of 20 for the campaign.
Luck always plays a role and he certainly got a little bit of it when saluting on Size’s giant sprinter Ping Hai Bravo in the Class Three Cornflower Handicap (1,000m).
Seemingly pocketed with 200m to go, Jack Wong Ho-nam drifted off the rail on early leader Baltic Success, gifting the Frenchman a saloon passage through hard on the outside rail to run down the favourite Duke Wai by a half-length.
“I was just waiting and then the gap opened, my horse took the bridle and just exploded to the line the last 100m,” he said. “The horse liked it – the pace was fast, he was waiting behind and finished very strong.”
Hamelin and Size, who now has 50 winners for the season and is three in front of Caspar Fownes in the title race, have formed a lethal combination in the past couple of months with four winners from nine starts together, something which bodes well for Lucky Express.
“I rode a lot for him last season but I wasn’t able to win, so I’ve had to wait a bit but this season is better,” Hamelin said.
The 29-year-old made it a double when the Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained Flying Bonus made full use of the dirt track’s on-pace bias, leading all the way to capture the Class Three Freesia Handicap (1,200m).
“I’ve ridden the horse a couple of times before and every time I’ve gone to the front but this was the first time I didn’t get pressured,” Hamelin said.
“Today I was alone out in front, I was able to relax so everything was perfect – the horse could breathe a bit before the turn and kick again in the straight.”