Heading into the 2019-20 season Francis Lui Kin-wai had only trained more than 40 winners in a season once in a career spanning over two decades.
Now the 62-year-old has stormed past 50 victories in consecutive campaigns and is a chance to better the extraordinary personal best he set last season.
In a memorable title fight, Lui willed himself to 63 winners – 17 more than he’d ever managed before – to finish a narrow third behind Ricky Yiu Poon-fai (67) and Tony Cruz (65).
But while Yiu has assumed a more familiar mid-table position this season after his maiden championship, Lui has powered on and has 56 wins with 10 meetings remaining in 2020-21.
While not locked in a championship battle this time around, Lui – who trails leader Caspar Fownes by 12 – still expects to finish the term strongly.
“It’s never been easy but to have so many winners across these two seasons makes me happy,” said Lui, who is riding the wave of the best horse to ever walk into his stable – Golden Sixty.
“Of course I didn’t expect to have 50 or more winners again but I think I’ve still got some winners left this season.”
Lui is on track to equal last season’s return – he’s averaging a tick over seven winners every 10 meetings – but whether he does or not is less important to the veteran than ensuring he becomes a permanent fixture at the pointy end of the trainers’ standings.
“Of course I think I can do it – I hope I can get rid of some of the older horses and some whose rating is at the top and bring through the young ones,” he said.
“Without new blood I will struggle and I can’t say I have a lot coming but there are some new ones coming.”
Lui heads to Happy Valley on Wednesday night with seven runners as he looks to keep the wheels turning but admits he will have his work cut out in the night’s feature, the Class Two Castle Peak Bay Handicap (1,000m), despite having two chances in the contest.
Massive Pocket, who saluted at the course and distance two starts back, and last-start winner Valiant Dream sit on career-high ratings of 90 and both have drawn double-figure barriers.
“Massive Pocket is at the top of his rating now and while Valiant Dream is in top form, he is on the highest rating he has been on and the Sha Tin straight is better for him than Happy Valley,” Lui said.
Igniting drops back into Class Three thanks to an extended ratings band of 85-60 for the Kat O Hoi Handicap (1,200m) and has drawn nicely in gate three under the in-form Matthew Poon Ming-fai.
The four-year-old has produced a strong first season in Hong Kong, winning twice and placing a further three times after being given a rating of 68 upon arriving from Australia, however Lui concedes the top weight of 133 pounds could be cause for concern on Wednesday night.
“He has surprised me because he’s not muscular, he’s skinny and light but he can still perform. It’s difficult to carry top weight though,” the trainer said.
Also among Lui’s arsenal at the midweek meeting are in-form pair Universal Go Go and Management Supreme, as well as Winston’s Lad and Noble Steed.