If Michael Chang Chun-wai doesn’t meet the Jockey Club’s performance benchmark this season, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying from the ultra-consistent Ching.
In taking out the Class Three Indigenous Handicap (1,600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday, four-year-old Ching rung up his fourth victory of a season where he hasn’t finished outside the top four in nine starts.
“He’s a good horse. He’s a very honest horse who just keeps improving,” Chang said of a galloper who’ll now be the highest rated in his stable.
Taken back to last from gate 12 by jockey Lyle Hewitson, $7.3 chance Ching built up a nice head of steam down the outside in the home straight to grab $5.1 favourite Helene Feeling in the final strides.
“It was a great ride. Carrying top weight, I asked the jockey to give him a chance – ‘you have to ride him very smooth, give him just one run’,” Chang said.
Ching’s win took Chang to 16 victories for the season – the number trainers without a Conghua stable must hit to satisfy the criteria – but five of those successes have come in Class Five while only two count towards his tally.
That means he requires another three wins in Class Four or above to avoid a strike for a third straight season and the likely end of his 18-year career.
“Honestly, I never worry about my mark. I’ve always done my job. I think I’ve done a very good job. There’s nothing I have to worry about. It’s the best I can do,” said a relaxed Chang.
Ching’s victory brought up a double for Hewitson after the earlier win of Setanta, seeing the South African move to 40 successes for the campaign and into fifth in the premiership.
Setanta the latest to shock
Hewitson also had to negotiate barrier 12 aboard Setanta and earned praise for a similar ride to the one he gave Ching, settling the $67 outsider in the back half of the field before allowing him to finish full of running down the middle of the track.
“He did really well up in Conghua. The drop from Class Three to Class Four helped as well, and it was a patient ride by Lyle,” said trainer David Hayes of Setanta’s surprise victory in the second section of the Class Four Exultant Handicap (1,400m).
Setanta, who started longer odds than his last start despite dropping in grade, continued the recent run of rank outsiders getting the chocolates after the victories of Find My Love at $69 last weekend and Chrysos at the same quote during the week.
Stoltz at home at Sha Tin
Trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai also walked away with a brace, the veteran handler doing his damage in the space of two races in the middle of the card.
After Stoltz took out the fourth event, the Class Two River Verdon Handicap (1,000m), Moduleconstruction backed up in the very next race, tasting success in the Class Four Makarpura Star Handicap (1,200m).
Stoltz was triumphing at Sha Tin for the first time, but although the five-year-old’s three prior victories had come over the Happy Valley 1,000m, Lui had never pigeon holed his charge.
“He had finished second at Sha Tin before, so maybe it’s the 1,000m that suits him rather than just Happy Valley,” Lui said, confirming Stoltz will return to the city circuit before the 2022-23 campaign is out. “He still has one run to come this season. In July, there’s a Happy Valley 1,000m.”
It’s been a big four weeks for the Caspar Fownes-trained Packing Hurricane, and a big month of May for his regular pilot, Harry Bentley.
Packing Hurricane saluted for the third time in four weeks at Sha Tin on Sunday, ringing up his hat-trick with victory in the Class Three Viva Pataca Handicap (2,000m).
“He tries. He’s got a bit of heart. There’s not much to him. He’s tiny – a very lightly framed horse – but if you’re winning three in a row in Hong Kong, getting up and doing it in Class Three, he’s very, very good,” Fownes said of his four-year-old.
Packing Hurricane has been the chief contributor to the biggest month of Bentley’s season so far, with the Englishman reeling off five successes in May to move to 22 for the campaign – just three fewer than he managed last term with 14 meetings to come.