Sha Tin has been a drab and desolate place at times during Covid-19 but Neil Callan provided a moment to savour on Monday, standing tall in his irons and saluting his family after winning the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy (1,600m) aboard Mighty Giant.
With public back on course for the first time since November, Callan treated the 3,948-strong crowd first to an astute front-running ride and then a celebration of the like not seen often enough in Hong Kong racing, before acknowledging his family as they watched on from the jockeys’ quarters.
“My kids are always on the fence on the other side of the hedge. They always love watching the racing and it’s nice for them to see their dad win a big one,” Callan said.
“It means a lot when they’re there to support me. There’s always emotion when you win, it’s our job and when you’ve got the passion for it and you want to win, you have got to be happy about it. Otherwise, why would we do it?”
Callan wears his heart on his sleeve and while it’s an approach that has endeared him to many, it landed him in hot water during a stewards’ inquiry in February and the licensing committee will assess his Hong Kong future during a hearing this Wednesday.
Callan was very much in the moment after his win on Monday afternoon, however, preferring to focus on his success before turning his attention to what lies ahead.
“Hopefully everything’s OK in the end but the most important thing is that we’ve won a big race, it’s been a while, so I’ll savour the moment,” he said. “Every big winner means a lot so let’s hope we’re around for a bit longer and I can ride a lot more big winners.”
Callan’s win aboard the Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained Mighty Giant was his first at Group level since his victory in the same race aboard Beauty Only almost three years ago to the day.
Yiu confirmed after Monday’s race that the five-year-old will head towards the Group One Champions Mile later this month and Callan hopes to retain the ride.
“The Japanese are going to be a force to be reckoned with but he can do nothing more than win the trial going into it,” the jockey said.
“He’s going to go in to the race in the best form of his career – his last two runs have been the best two runs of his career.”
Although he was a fraction slow away, Callan had $12.60 chance Mighty Giant in front by the 1,200m and got his own way in a race run over and second and a half outside of standard.
“Wherever he jumped and landed, I didn’t want to have to ask him too much to be there,” Callan said.
“So I just let the horse build up into a nice rhythm and at the corner I just took a little tug on him and I knew he was going to give me a kick. His kick was his winning move, he got that two lengths on them and maintained it.”
Yiu is looking forward to measuring Mighty Giant against Golden Sixty again on Champions Day after his charge finished six lengths behind the superstar miler at their last meeting.
“He never runs a bad race, he will still finish close but against a good horse like him it will be a big task,” he said, adding that the absence of Ka Ying Star – who was scratched on race morning with capped elbow – played into Mighty Giant’s hands.
“I think the positive was the small field and the horse that was supposed to lead was scratched, so we had a soft lead.”
Southern Legend was half a length away in second to please trainer Caspar Fownes as he heads towards the Champions Mile, a race he won last season.
“He’s run really well, he’s in good form and he’ll be there in his best form to give us a chance again,” Fownes said.
More Than This finished third and Champion’s Way was fourth, while Joao Moreira eased $1.60 favourite Waikuku out of the contest in the home straight and the six-year-old was found to have substantial blood in his trachea post-race, meaning he will have to trial to the satisfaction of stewards and pass a vet examination before competing again.