If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s a saying Travel Datuk took to the extreme, but at his 49th attempt the cult hero finally ended his run as Hong Kong’s longest-standing maiden.
Coming into Wednesday night’s meeting, Richard Gibson’s eight-year-old had 11 seconds and six thirds from his 48 starts, but had been knocking on the door with five consecutive placings.
After six seasons of trying, everything finally fell into place in the Class Four Chatham Handicap (1,000m) and Travel Datuk snapped his drought.
Even with the limited crowd of 1,272 on course, there was a noticeable cheer around Happy Valley when the popular galloper overhauled Victory In Hand and Spicy So Good in the shadows of the post.
It meant Travel Datuk shed himself of an unwanted title – the horse who had the most starts in Hong Kong without a win – handing it back to Al Bundy, who had 45 starts in the 1990s for 13 minor placings under the care of David Hill.
The win was a reward for effort but not even his trainer believed he could do it at the top of the straight.
“I didn’t shout – I didn’t think he was going to make it actually,” a delighted Gibson said.
“He always tries his best but he’s not used to winning. He’s been very consistent and sometimes that’s how it goes in racing. But great credit to the horse, he kept himself in good shape and today was the day.
“It’s funny, these horses, once they get their nose in front, they tend to do it again another time. We live in hope.”
Gibson revealed the son of Holy Roman Emperor, who had one win to his credit in Ireland before making the move to his new home, had gained a cult following.
“Actually, he became a very popular horse this season. Many fans have contacted us on Facebook,” he said. “He’s a very kind horse, my daughter is three years old, she gives him carrots every day. He’s a yard favourite.”
The Englishman was thrilled to get the monkey off his back so Travel Datuk didn’t end up like Al Bundy and finish his Hong Kong career without a win.
“It’s not a record a trainer is very proud of but he’s been very consistent this year and a lot of fun,” Gibson said.
“I do not know why he chose today but congratulations to Matthew [Poon Ming-fai]. He made the difference.”
It was the first of a double for Poon, who also tasted success on the Tony Millard-trained Shouson in the last, while Karis Teetan also went home with two winners after saluting on Xiang Bai Qi and Wind N Grass.
Travel Datuk’s breakthrough was clearly the highlight on a card where two odds-on favourites had contrasting fortunes.
Francis Lui Kin-wai’s Stock Legend ($1.8) justified his short quote with a dominant display in the second section of the Class Four Gillies Handicap (1,200m) but the same could not be said of Capital Star ($1.4), who led early before fading to fourth behind Wind N Grass in the second section of the Class Three Baker Handicap (1,200m).
The former notched his third win from four starts with Lui optimistic the stable has finally taught him the manners required to race successfully.
“It was a good run, he’s more behaved and under control. He’s really improved his last few starts,” Lui said.
“We’ve changed everything with him – even sending him to Conghua – to forget all his bad habits. After the race Joao said that if he got a good gate again, Class Three would be OK.”