While the move to extend Manfred Man Ka-leung’s training career makes sense for reasons of necessity and performance, it was another justification given by Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges that could be of interest to some of the veteran’s colleagues.
Man is in the process of compiling a career-best season and he won his first Group One on Sunday thanks to the victory of Lucky Sweynesse in the Centenary Sprint Cup, a four-year-old who looks poised to provide connections with plenty more joy in the future.
The decision to move the goalposts and extend Man also comes at a time when Michael Chang Chun-wai and Peter Ho Leung are staring at third strikes for failing to meet the trainers’ benchmark, and they could have their licences revoked at the end of the campaign.
Man will be a valuable member of a potentially depleted training ranks next term, and giving him another year to train the best horse he has ever had is the right thing to do.
Lucky Sweynesse was so good in Sunday's G1 Centenary Sprint Cup! 💫#SpeedSeries | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/guVzJoIimV— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 6, 2023
But according to Engelbrecht-Bresges, the decision to extend Man’s career even though he does not meet the criteria for continuing past 65 also hinged on when he was born.
“The decision was based, first of all, on the birth date, then we look at the performance and he has shown he would be an asset, so we then decided to have the flexibility to give him another season,” he said.
Man turns 66 on July 18, meaning he will finish this season aged 65, which would usually have seen him forced into retirement.
But Engelbrecht-Bresges’ words could be cause for optimism for the next trainer on the chopping block, Benno Yung Tin-pang, who turns 65 later this year.
The Jockey Club has shown a refreshing willingness to bend the rules by giving Man an extension, doing away with the rigidity that was displayed when John Moore was forced into retirement at the end of the 2019-20 season, and it will be interesting to see how far that new approach stretches.
Million Challenge just ‘a bit of fun’
It is that time of year again when everyone starts to wonder just what purpose the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge serves as the competition approaches its crescendo at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
Run from September 14 to February 8, the Million Challenge – in a bid to attract stronger fields at Happy Valley – sees runners in all Class Three races and above accrue points for finishing in the top four, with HK$650,000 going to the connections of the winning horse, HK$250,000 for second and HK$100,000 for third.
However, when you consider first prize is less than what a Class Three winner receives – and private purchases pocket a HK$1 million bonus just for winning a Class Three before the age of five – there must be a way to liven up the competition, which flies under the radar for months before attracting some minor interest on its final night.
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“It’s a bit of a laugh when you think about the money. It’s so small it’s trivial,” said Caspar Fownes, the man known as the King of the Valley, whose galloper Nearly Fine is the Million Challenge leader heading into the finale.
“Make it a number that means something. It’s less than the bonus for a Class Three winner. For us, it’s about a bit of fun. You try to do it for a friend, and if you get the result, it’s a bit of fun, but that’s about it.
“I’m glad the club are doing what they’re doing with the bonuses for the Class Threes and Class Twos. We need them, and we need to encourage people to get back into the game. Maybe this should be HK$10 million.”