There was no grandstand finish to the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, with long-time leader Nearly Fine maintaining his advantage and pocketing the HK$650,000 first prize for his connections.

The Caspar Fownes-trained five-year-old took the competition by the scruff of the neck with two wins in September before following up with a third placing in October and another victory in November to build what turned out to be an insurmountable lead.

Another third in December bumped Nearly Fine to 53 points and while he was not able to add to that tally in two additional runs – he could only manage a fifth placing on Wednesday night – it was enough to see him finish clear of the Tony Cruz-trained Street Scream (48), Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Excellent Peers (42) and another Cruz galloper, Yo Beauty (42).

“I’m very happy to get the prize. We tried to do it, and it’s nice when you get the winning result. I’m very happy,” Fownes said.

“He surprised us, really, starting off in Class Three and then all the way to running extremely well in a Group Three. He’s done us proud. He’s come a long way. He still ran well tonight, and I think we have a chance to go to Sha Tin next time and run well.”

It was Fownes’ fourth victory in the Million Challenge, which sees gallopers earn points for top-four finishes in races Class Three and above from September 14 to February 8.

By adding Nearly Fine’s success to those of Socrates (2006-07), Ocean Wide (2008-09) and Twin Delight (2014-15), the man known as the King of the Valley broke the deadlock with Danny Shum Chap-shing to become the most successful trainer in the Million Challenge’s 20-year history.

“I’ve won a few races at Happy Valley, they tell me, which is good,” Fownes said.

Street Scream could only manage a fourth-placed finish on Wednesday night, but his connections took home the HK$250,000 second prize after their galloper reeled off a hat-trick of victories to start the season, while the owners of Excellent Peers – who finished fifth at the midweek meeting – and Yo Beauty pocketed HK$50,000 each after sharing third spot.

While Nearly Fine could only manage fifth in the Class One Shan Kwong Handicap (1,650m), the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained The Irishman impressed on the way to his second Hong Kong victory and first at Happy Valley.

The victory completed a double for Lui and jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, who also combined to take out the Class Five Yuk Sau Handicap (1,650m) with Foxhunter Way.

The night’s other Class One contest, the Blue Pool Handicap (1,200m), saw rookie trainer Pierre Ng Pang-chi post the most lucrative win of his fledging career, with Astrologer storming to victory under Alexis Badel.

While Ng entered the meeting with 22 wins after hitting the ground running in his first season, he had never won a race above Class Three level.

Astrologer changed that with his fourth win from 14 Hong Kong starts and his first for Ng after transferring from the Douglas Whyte stable, where the four-year-old’s most notable achievement was his victory at $134 in November 2021.

Hugh Bowman was the only other jockey to land a double, getting the chocolates for Shum aboard Flying Silver before saluting with John Size’s Special M.

Flying Silver was the first leg of a double for Shum, who closed the card with a win thanks to Gorytus’ knockout success at $32.