Angus Chung Yik-lai celebrated the new year with the biggest win of his career, the apprentice jockey getting the best out of master trainer Tony Cruz’s enigmatic galloper Ima Single Man in the Class Two Cherry Handicap (1,200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Chung’s 11th Hong Kong victory was his first in a race graded higher than Class Three, while it was also Ima Single Man’s first success since he won a Class Two contest over 1,400m at Sha Tin in December 2021.
It appears Chung gets on well with Ima Single Man, who came to Hong Kong from Western Australia, where he had been an unbeaten Group Two-winning juvenile.
Ima Single Man was a short head away from ending his lengthy Hong Kong losing streak when Chung rode him for the first time on October 16, so perhaps he should not have been $8.45 to triumph with the 10-pound claimer aboard.
Ting breaks drought
Jimmy Ting Koon-ho’s wait for his next victory had not been as long as that of Ima Single Man, but he had gone 75 runners and more than two months without a visit to the winner’s circle before Divine Era ran away with the first section of the Class Five Yew Handicap (1,400m) under Zac Purton.
Prominent throughout, Divine Era moved to the front and quickly put a gap on his Yew Handicap opponents, crossing the winning line four and a half lengths ahead of the chasing pack, whom the Luke Ferraris-ridden Smart Folks headed.
Perhaps worried about the size of the penalty Jockey Club handicappers may give to Divine Era, Ting downplayed the value of his galloper’s victory.
“He got lucky because he got a good draw, and because some horses went in front, he got a fast pace, so he didn’t pull too hard,” Ting said.
Hamelin snares double
Coming Patch’s surprise success in the Class Four Willow Handicap (1,600m) brought up a New Year’s Day double for not only Ting but also French jockey Antoine Hamelin, who was also triumphant aboard Pierre Ng Pang-chi’s uncomplicated sprinter Happy Fat Cat in the Class Four Poplar Handicap (1,200m).
“I’m very happy. A winner from the front. Another from the back. It’s very important. Like everyone, I need the support from the trainers, so I hope I can keep going like this,” said Hamelin, who has posted seven victories from his 135 rides this term.
Happy Fat Cat has won on both Sha Tin surfaces since joining Ng’s stable from Tony Millard’s yard before this season began. Ng believes how the speedster maps is of more importance than the conditions he faces.
“It depends on any challengers in the early stages. It doesn’t matter on the turf or dirt. Once he gets an easy lead, he can lead all the way,” Ng said.
Eternal finds trouble again
There was drama before the Class Three Cotton Tree Handicap (1,200m) when $1.30 favourite Beauty Eternal parted company with Purton during the preliminaries and then bumped into Wonder Kit as he ran loose around Sha Tin.
Jockey Club stewards scratched both Beauty Eternal and Wonder Kit from the event, with the primary beneficiary being David Hall-prepared Atullibigeal, whom Hugh Bowman steered to his first win on Hong Kong soil.
It was not the first time Beauty Eternal had been the talk of the track, but at least unlike on the Ladies’ Purse Day undercard, when he was held up behind a wall of horses at $1.50, punters who gambled on him got their money back this time.
Badel back, O’Sullivan honoured
In other news, Jockey Club officials have approved Alexis Badel to resume riding trackwork on Monday, with a view to the Frenchman taking part in trials on Friday and accepting a limited number of bookings for next weekend’s meeting at Sha Tin.
Badel sustained shoulder and ankle injuries when he fell from ill-fated galloper Fantastic Way at Sha Tin on November 20. Consequently, Badel missed the Group One Hong Kong Sprint-winning ride on Richard Gibson-prepared speedster Wellington.
Despite spending more than six weeks on the sidelines, Badel still ranks in the premiership’s top 10 on 11 victories, the same number as Luke Ferraris, Matthew Poon Ming-fai and Chung.
Also, congratulations to Paul O’Sullivan, who is set to be inducted into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame in the same intake as top jockey Opie Bosson.
O’Sullivan trained 517 winners across his 18 seasons in Hong Kong, and he is best known for his handling of Aerovelocity, whom he conditioned to win the 2014 and 2016 editions of the Hong Kong Sprint, as well as securing memorable victories in Japan and Singapore.