French jockey Antoine Hamelin made the most of a rare ride aboard a favourite to record the opening leg of his first double in 20 months and stake his claim for more assignments on short-priced horses.
Hamelin, whom Douglas Whyte only booked to partner Class Four Huizhou Handicap (1,000m) market leader Pretty Queen Prawn because the galloper’s regular rider, Lyle Hewitson, held a prior engagement, won that race and the Class Three Shenzhen Handicap (2,200m) atop John Size-trained Hit The Shot.
Hamelin’s Happy Valley double on what was the city circuit’s lone day card this season was his first meeting multiple since he saluted the judge twice at Sha Tin on March 7 last year.
Riding Pretty Queen Prawn for the first time and starting from the inside gate, Hamelin justified the faith of not only Whyte but also punters.
“I had a great draw. The horse was ready and in great form. It was the favourite. If you give me the favourite, then it’s easier,” said Hamelin, who has only been aboard four market leaders since the 2020-21 campaign in which he rode 27 winners.
Two races later, Hamelin teamed up with another high-profile import who has experienced more than his fair share of tough times since arriving in Hong Kong to win the longest event on the card.
Almost two years to the day since Hit The Shot placed second in 2020’s Group One Victoria Derby (2,500m) at Flemington on Australia’s deepest annual meeting – all nine contests are Group events – Hamelin helped Size’s five-year-old galloper post his first Hong Kong victory on his 10th attempt.
Unplaced in his nine previous Hong Kong races, the extended 2,200m journey hit the spot for Hit The Shot – it was his first appearance over more than 2,000m since his Victoria Derby silver medal.
“He’s a stayer. He needs to find races suitable for him. That’s been the difficulty. He’s not alone in that. There are plenty of horses who come here and they need a race that’s run to suit,” Size said.
“We bought him after the Derby. He wasn’t what we wanted, actually. We were hoping for something far classier. But at this point I think he’s going to race on, I think he’s going to give us a little bit of pleasure, and I think he’s going to win again.”
The next challenge Size sets for Hit The Shot may dictate whether Hamelin keeps the ride aboard the son of Dundeel, who paid just $6.2 to win at Happy Valley in spite of his nine unplaced runs.
That is because Jockey Club stewards handed out a two-meeting suspension to Hamelin for his Shenzhen Handicap-winning ride, adjudging him guilty of careless riding in the race’s concluding stages.
Hamelin misses the Sha Tin meeting on November 12 and the one at Happy Valley four days later.
“I made a point to everyone today. Life will be easier for the next few weeks, hopefully,” said Hamelin, who is aiming to add to his season tally of half a dozen winners before his ban begins.