Sweet Encounter, a debutant tailed off 17 and a half lengths behind California Spangle in a recent trial, won the Class Four Kwong Fuk Handicap (1,200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday to end the lengthy losing runs of both trainer John Size and jockey Alexis Badel.
When Ping Hai Galaxy led all the way to win a Class Three contest at Happy Valley in the first week of July, surely neither Size nor Badel expected they would have to wait until the last week of September for their next taste of success on a racecourse.
But 11-time Hong Kong champion conditioner Size and four-time Group One-winning rider Badel experienced 47 and 32 consecutive losses, respectively, before Sweet Encounter made all 30 minutes after California Spangle’s stunningly simple success in the Group Three Celebration Cup (1,400m).
Sweet Encounter’s preparatory exploits had not gone down well with punters – the betting market ranked him seventh of the Kwong Fuk Handicap’s 12 starters at $15 – but it was clear from Size’s post-race comments he had always been a believer in the newcomer.
“He’s a beautiful horse. He’s a lovely mover. He does everything like a quality animal,” Size said.
“Today, he was afforded a very good start, he got himself into a good position and he was a better horse than the others. He’d promised to do something like that given an opportunity.”
After becoming the 20th of the Jockey Club’s 22 licensed trainers to get off the mark this term, Size scored a Sha Tin double thanks to Tuchel’s win in Class Three Fuk Loi Handicap (1,400m) and went close to a third triumph when Fantastic Way placed in the Class Two Cheung Hong Handicap (1,200m).
“I normally don’t do much in September. Two wins is OK for me in September,” said Size, who was $22 to take out his first Trainer Challenge since the Jockey Club introduced the fixed-odds wagering option at the beginning of the 2022-23 season.
“The race was set nicely for him,” added Size of Tuchel, who was the second of Zac Purton’s three weekend winners as the star jockey increased his championship lead over his closest challenger, Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, from three to five.
“He was able to take advantage of a decent pace and finish the race off as you’d probably expect. I think it’s just a matter of the competition getting a bit tougher for him and whether he can improve.”
Much to the relief of Jockey Challenge favourite backers, Purton improved past Silvestre de Sousa just when it seemed a rider was going to top the points ladder without registering a race win.
Purton’s meeting-closing victories aboard Tuchel and Fantastic Treasure, added to his earlier win on California Spangle and runner-up result on Happy Daily, were sufficient for him to accumulate 42 Jockey Challenge points, four more than De Sousa, who recorded five seconds and two thirds in his last meeting before starting the suspension he incurred for his ride aboard Lucky Sweynesse.