Right Choice edged an enthralling duel for the Kowloon Cricket Club Centenary Cup Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday afternoon to sweeten what jockey Silvestre de Sousa felt was a wrong decision one race prior.
Right Choice (in green) wins the Kowloon Cricket Club Centenary Cup
The Brazilian was all but forced to lead the Class 2 feature race on the talented four-year-old, a move that almost backfired.
“The way the race was run wasn’t suitable for him, it was such a slow pace and with the weight he carried (117lb) I felt the best position would be where he was in front, so he’d be in the right place at the right time, but he was never happy to be there doing the work,” the rider said.
Fellow Brazilian Joao Moreira pressured the leader aboard top-weight Time To Celebrate (133lb), never allowing De Sousa’s mount to relax. And, when De Sousa had to ask questions of Right Choice entering the home straight, Moreira was there to pounce.
Time To Celebrate edged the lead with 400m to race and looked momentarily as though he had the 1.9 favourite’s measure. But De Sousa was in no mood for capitulation; a powerful drive galvanized Right Choice; the New Zealand-bred rallied to regain the lead at the 200m mark and then held on as the brave Time To Celebrate lunged again at the line.
“He dug deep!” De Sousa said. “I’d like to ride him again over a mile but be more patient and let him come home from the back.
“He felt like he was still immature and babyish. He just wants to be in a fast pace where he can come home strongly. I hope he’s better than he showed today.”
The Frankie Lor-trained gelding scored by a nose in 1m 35.25s to take his career tally to five wins from six starts.
“He couldn't find any horse to lead so he got lost in front,” Lor said. “He learned something and next time, if nothing leads and he finds he’s in front, he will be better.
“I’ll look at the programme and see if we stay at a mile or go back to 1400 (metres), maybe give him a month off.”
De Sousa wrapped up his four-month winter contract in Hong Kong with 44 wins – an impressive haul – thanks to the Mastercraftsman gelding’s effort, but Britain’s three-time champion jockey could not conceal his chagrin at the demotion of Utopia Life in the Class 3 Hillwood Handicap (1000m).
The Manfred Man-trained three-year-old passed the post ahead of the rest but shifted out under the Brazilian’s drive, consequently closing a gap and impeding the fast-finishing Seven Heavens who snatched up dramatically under Martin Harley before crossing the line fourth.
The Stewards called an inquiry and an objection was lodged for good measure. Utopia Life was placed fourth, with runner-up Multimillion promoted to first place and the Caspar Fownes-trained Seven Heavens upped one position to third.
“I thought the Stewards took the wrong decision to disqualify me but they make the decisions,” De Sousa said.
Voyage Warrior’s win in the Class 4 Pine Tree Hill Handicap (1000m) was widely-anticipated but that did not diminish the palpable “wow”: The manner of the debutant’s four-length triumph was all that his connections had hoped for – perhaps a little more.
Jockey Karis Teetan – the beneficiary of De Sousa’s demotion, as the rider of Multimillion – found the lead easily from the rail-side gate 14 and the inexperienced Declaration Of War gelding relished the trail-blazing role. By the 500m point he had burnt off the harrying Great Fit; by the furlong pole he was clear and cruising towards what could have been a dozen-length margin; at the 100m, ears pricked as his supporters celebrated, the chestnut was eased down, his work done, the victory sealed.
“The horse showed a great turn-of-foot and he’s done nothing wrong so far. He’s a very exciting horse to progress,” trainer Ricky Yiu said after his charge had stopped the clock at 56.65s, with a final 400m split of 22.67s.
“They’ll give him a double-digit rise in rating so he’ll go into Class 3 now but if I keep running him over the thousand (metres) he will win a couple more, at least. He just needs to learn to settle – that will make him a better horse,” Yiu continued.
“He’s still green, he’s still learning. He was running around a little bit towards the last furlong and the jockey got a little bit excited and dropped his stick – but he didn't need it anyway!”
The three-year-old debutant returned the 1.5 favourite on the back of two blitzing barrier trials in recent weeks. Those warm-up efforts gave Teetan confidence going into the Australian-bred galloper’s first assignment.
“He’s a nice little horse and we expected him to run well,” the Mauritian ace said.
“He’s been trialling a similar way so it wasn’t too surprising, and it wasn’t the strongest field today, but it’s good that he won and he still doesn’t know much about what is happening around him or what he should do. I think there is still a long way to go with him and a few things to fix but it was a good first step.”
Purton bags three
Champion jockey Zac Purton bagged a treble to take his season’s tally to 89, 26 clear of next-best Teetan.
Purton teamed with the Man-trained Natural Flame to take the 1200m Class 5; guided second-time starter Band Of Brothers from deep to land the Class 4 Jordan Handicap (1400m) for trainer Paul O’Sullivan; and enjoyed the perfect sit in third before cruising down the dirt track’s home straight for a length-and-three-quarters win on the Dennis Yip-trained Chung Wah Spirit.
Richard Gibson made history when saddling the first ever winner at Conghua Racecourse yesterday (Saturday, 23 March) and the trainer followed up with victory in this afternoon’s Sha Tin opener. Grant van Niekerk nailed his first win atop a Gibson galloper – at his second ride for the stable – when Ruminare broke his maiden at the 19th attempt in the Class 5 Tak Shing Handicap (1400m).
Jack Wong endured a barren spell that stretched from 11 November to 2 March but the rider was on the mark for the second time this month when Flying Lover landed the 1200m Class 4 on the dirt track. Me Tsui’s galloper surged over the top of his rivals to land a first win at start 20.
Umberto Rispoli now has 16 wins for the season after guiding the David Ferraris-trained Honest Way to success in race eight. Joao Moreira got on the day’s scoresheet in the finale, nicking the spoils on top-weight Beauty Spirit to give the Tony Cruz stable a double.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 27 March