Leung takes Sha Tin honours with treble
Faced with a monumental challenge to overtake Matthew Chadwick and Vincent Ho in the race for the Tony Cruz Award as Hong Kong’s most successful home-grown jockey for the 2021/22 season, Derek Leung refused to concede the battle was lost after a treble at Sha Tin yesterday.
Trailing Chadwick (54) and Vincent Ho (49) with 47 wins – having comfortably surpassed his previous best haul of 39 wins in a campaign – Leung has only 20 races and two meetings left in the season to make further inroads.
On a day when the contest for the jockeys’ and trainers’ championships were largely unchanged with Zac Purton and Joao Moreira both riding a winner each to maintain the status quo at 132-130 and Frankie Lor (90) and John Size (84) failing to add to their totals, Leung is hoping for a miracle.
“I need a lot of luck and something magical, but I will do my best,” Leung said. “This is my best season and I’m still hungry and I want to ride more winners before the end of the season. I’m very happy to come back in this way from suspension. Things are going well at the moment, but I want to ride more winners.”
Leung scored on Chicken Dance (Hinchinbrook) for Paul O’Sullivan, Woodfire Bro (Echoes Of Heaven) for Peter Ho and All Riches (Wandjina) for Ricky Yiu, who shared training honours on the card with Tony Cruz.
For all of Leung’s gains, Chadwick’s victory on Cruz’s talented Beauty Charge (Havana Gold) in the Class 3 Stevenson Cup Handicap (1200m) means Ho and Leung – who both retain mathematical chances of Tony Cruz Award victory – face a monumental task with opportunities dwindling ahead of Saturday’s season finale.
Cruz will aim Beauty Charge at next season’s lucrative Four-Year-Old Classic Series – Hong Kong Classic Mile (Listed, 1600m), Hong Kong Classic Cup (Listed, 1800m) and Hong Kong Derby (Listed, 2000m) – after the colt’s impressive victory.
“Definitely, for sure,” Cruz responded when asked if the three-year-old would tackle the series.
“He’s definitely an improving horse as you can see. He had only two starts overseas and this is only his second start in Hong Kong and he’s definitely improved from his first start.
“I’ve got high expectations of this horse and I expected him to perform today and the public all knew exactly how good this horse is.”
Francis Lui might plot a similar course with Universal Horizon (Shalaa) after the colt debuted successfully in the Class 4 Li Cup Handicap (1200m) under Vincent Ho.
“He’s a nice horse. He gives the impression he can step up in distance. When he came to me, he was bulky and a bit fat but he’s always shown nice ability,” Lui said.
Cruz closed the 86th meeting of the year in style when Circuit Stellar (Mehmas) fended off favourite Keefy (All Too Hard) to win the Class 2 Chow Silver Plate Handicap (1400m) under a clever Luke Ferraris ride.
Formerly known as Magnanimous when trained to three wins in Ireland, including Listed success at Leopardstown in June 2021, by Joseph O’Brien, Circuit Stellar impressed Ferraris with his resolve when challenged by Keefy.
“He had the run of the race and as we peeled into the straight, he got a split between runners and he fought to the line – a win full of merit,” Ferraris said. “He really enjoyed the fight and he relished the style of running, so going forward he’s got options.
“Mr Cruz has been hugely instrumental, so all credit to him and his team.”
Moreira struck first in the championship tussle with Purton with a short head victory aboard Forever Friends (Cotai Glory) for Caspar Fownes in the Pearce Memorial Challenge Cup Plate (1200m) for Griffins, narrowly denying Purton aboard Happy Won (Holy Roman Emperor).
Purton restored a two-win margin when the David Hall-trained Flying Mighty (Husson) claimed the Class 5 Wong Cup Handicap (1600m), storming from midfield to post his first victory in Hong Kong at his 22nd attempt.
Unbeaten in two starts in Australia for Kim Waugh when known as Hussonibis, Flying Mighty lifted Hall’s seasonal tally to 30.
Ricky Yiu matched Cruz’s effort to slot a double, teaming with Leung and All Riches in the Class 4 Chan Trophy Handicap (1400m) and Lyle Hewitson and Jolly Ruler (Helmet) in the Class 3 Ip Jug Handicap (1200m, dirt). All Riches’ triumph catapulted 2019/20 champion Yiu to the 50-win mark for the season.
Leung also teamed with Peter Ho and Woodfire Bro to clinch the Class 4 Arculli Trophy Handicap (1600m).
Luke Currie and Michael Chang combined with Moeraki (El Roca) to snare the Class 4 Purves Quaich Handicap (1200m, dirt), providing satisfaction for both jockey and trainer.
“I was hoping to get one before the end of the season – I was hoping to get a few – but he’s probably the first horse that I’ve ridden here that’s started favourite. They’re all hard races to win, but it’s important to win on those horses,” Currie said.
While Currie is looking to a family reunion in Australia before returning to Hong Kong for the 2022/23 season, Chang posted his 16th victory for the current term.
“This horse deserved to win in Class 4. His rating had dropped a lot. He had a little break and we started from scratch again and brought him up slowly. His best performances have been on dirt, he had a good gate  and it wasn’t a strong field – so he deserved to win,” Chang said.
Leung coaxed the best out of Paul O’Sullivan’s Chicken Dance to land the Class 4 Swaine Cup Handicap (1200m), marking the gelding’s first win since October, 2019.
“He probably hasn’t performed as we thought he would but today the sting is out of the track and he got his chance and took advantage of it,” O’Sullivan said.