David Hayes is hopeful he has a Classic Series contender on his hands after smart four-year-old Lucky Encounter returned a winner at Sha Tin on Sunday.

Twice successful from four starts in his debut season, Hayes likes what he sees from Lucky Encounter as he looks to rebuild the top end of his stable after a tough 2022-23 campaign.

“He’s got a lot of upside. He’s a good sprinter-miler. He’s a four-year-old, so we’re hoping he can go into the series later in the year,” he said.

“I think he is [the most exciting] of the raced ones in my stable. He’s pretty good, I think, and I’ve got some nice unraced horses who’ll be coming out in November.”

After travelling in the box seat under Karis Teetan in the Class Three Admiralty Handicap (1,200m), Lucky Encounter muscled his way off the rail 350m from home and dashed clear of leader Super Fortune, saluting by a length and a quarter in a race run half a second inside standard.

The son of Epaulette will now find himself on a rating in the mid 70s, and Hayes suggested he will keep his charge at 1,200m for the time being before a potential step up in trip on a Longines Hong Kong International Races undercard featuring seven-furlong contests in Class Two and Class Three.

“I’ll probably run him in another 1,200m. He was a little bit keen at the start, so we’ll keep him at 1,200m. We’ll look at 1,400m later, maybe international day,” said the Australian trainer.

A two-time champion trainer in his first stint in Hong Kong, Hayes was plagued by stable transfers last term and could only manage 13th in the premiership with 34 wins.

Jockey Karis Teetan and trainer David Hayes enjoy Lucky Encounter’s victory with connections.

“I have a bit of a trend towards the end of the season when the tracks are terrible and it’s raining, I back off my horses. So when you’re losing all the horses and not having any winners in the last month, you’ll always get a lot of criticism,” said Hayes, who has now snared victories at consecutive meetings.

“But I think I’ve got a nice even team, and I’ll just keep working hard, chip away and hopefully, a few start coming back.

Teetan has been in the saddle for all five of Lucky Encounter’s runs and is confident he will be a horse worth sticking with.

“He’s always been a horse with ability and I thought it was a good win. He had to push his way out – he was very brave to do that – and I thought he ran a nice race,” Teetan said.

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“I think he’ll have to stay at this distance until he settles, but he’s a progressive horse.”

While it was a nice watch for those who backed $3.6 second elect Lucky Encounter, it was quite the opposite for those in the corner of fellow Classic Series hopeful Joyful Hunter, who jumped the $2.8 favourite.

Undefeated from two starts last term, Francis Lui Kin-wai’s Joyful Hunter was positioned well back on the rail by Vincent Ho Chak-yiu before finding heavy traffic and losing all momentum in the home straight.

The four-year-old picked up and eventually found a way through, finishing a length and a half off the winner, but connections could only look on as the gelding’s unblemished record went up in smoke.