Hong Kong Jockey Club
By Leo Schlink
Benefiting from an overdue change of luck with barriers, Beluga upstaged several Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders with facile victory in the Class 2 Chek Keng Handicap (1600m), prompting trainer David Hall to consider loftier targets with the talented gelding.
Beluga’s record of five wins and eight minor placings from 16 starts would be even more imposing if not for a flurry of wide barriers over the past two seasons.
Drawn in barrier three on Sunday (9 January) for Matthew Chadwick, the five-year-old had the run of the race before accelerating away from Ima Single Man and The Irishman.
“How many times has he just run unbelievable races from those wide gates?” Hall said. “To see him finally get the charmed run and deliver like he did was pretty fitting considering the way things went with him last year.
“He's in a good place at the moment and he's probably not done with. This season he's a lot more relaxed, he's more mature and he's handling himself a lot better. The results are there and we can probably now test him at a bit further.
“Now is a good time to experiment with him — if you take up those box-seat positions in slow-run races it's a big advantage.”
Hall indicated the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) might be an option for the son of Tavistock.
In 10 starts last season, Beluga drew single-figure gates just three times, compromising his winning prospects.
Unflustered early from a more accommodating draw, Chadwick allowed Beluga to find his rhythm before angling out in the straight to overhaul Ima Single Man before easing clear.
“He was in the right spot, right time. He also got the run of the race today and he got there today. He’s been threatening to do that for a while,” Chadwick said.
Tony Cruz immediately confirmed Ima Single Man would contest the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday, 30 January, while Francis Lui’s The Irishman lost no admirers with a charging third.
Master Delight, who finished fourth for John Size, will also forge onto the Hong Kong Classic Mile.
“Slow-run races sometimes you don't see the best of them so I'm hoping he'll go better when there's a true tempo,” Size said.
John Size and Joao Moreira were left impressed by Running Glory’s emphatic success in the first section of the Class 4 Tai Tan Handicap (1400m).
“He impressed me in the way that he won, he won with great authority by a big margin — which I didn’t think he was going to do,” Moreira said. “I thought he could win, but I didn’t think he would win in such an easy way.”
Karis Teetan produced a virtually identical ride in the second section of the Class 4 Tai Tan Handicap (1400m) aboard Happy Daily, who speared along the rails to post his second win in two starts.
Antoine Hamelin followed suit to snap a 52-ride run of outs to win the Class 3 Pak Tam Au Handicap (1400m) for Size, piloting Heza Beauty to victory at 78/1. It was the Frenchman’s first victory since 1 December.
“Hong Kong is a tough place, this is nothing new,” Hamelin smiled. “I just never give up and I keep going to do my job. I do all the best with what I have in the hand and I’m very happy to win for Mr Size.
“It was a surprise a bit for everyone but I never give up.”
Alfred Chan notched a race-to-race double, teaming with Chris So’s Team Spirit in the Class 3 Luk Wu Handicap (1200m) and Caspar Fownes’ Super Kin in the Class 5 Wong Yi Chau Handicap (1400m).
“It’s very satisfying,” said Chan, who last posted a brace at Sha Tin on 12 September. “I was able to sit outside the leader in both races and the leader was ridden by Karis (Teetan) each time. There was good speed and the horses performed well.
“It’s great to ride a double and get support from Chris and Caspar.”
Team Spirit has compiled a tremendous record for So and his owners, registering six wins — all over Sha Tin’s 1200m course — as well as 11 minor placings from 44 starts for earnings of more than HK$7 million.
David Hayes was left with mixed emotions after Metro Warrior was awarded the Class 3 Long Ke Handicap (1000m) on protest after jockey Vincent Ho lodged an objection against Moreira’s mount Alcari. With only a short head separating the pair, Stewards upheld the objection.
“It's never nice to win on protest, but I'll take it,” Hayes said. “Every time he's run down the 1000 (metre) straight there's been a young superstar running, but this time there were no 100-plus horses running so it looked a good race for him today and it was nice that he could win.”
Moreira rebounded swiftly, claiming the Class 4 Pak Tam Chung Handicap (1000m) with Whizz Kid for Tony Cruz. It was the Shalaa gelding’s first Hong Kong victory in six attempts.
Paul O’Sullivan’s August Moon handled a rise in grade with aplomb to post his second victory in as many starts, claiming the Class 4 Tai Long Tsui Handicap (1200m) after his last-start Class 5 win over the same course and distance.
Takingufurther returned to the winning list for the first time since February, 2020 when Jimmy Ting’s veteran claimed the Class 5 Wong Shek Handicap (1200m) for Jerry Chau.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (12 January).