“He’s a nice horse, this, but he’s so naturally fast that I didn’t want to pull him in behind,” Callan said. “He was travelling so strongly on the bridle that I just let him do everything on his own, even when he was challenged on the turn. When I got into the straight, I tried to hold onto him as long as possible as I thought the swoopers would be coming and for him to hold on, it was an incredible effort.
“The last 50m or so, I thought he was looking around a little bit more than normal so I think, when he has a race where he has something to run at, he’ll be even better. I think he’s got more improvement in him yet.”
Badel breaks through for first win of current stint
Callan shared riding honours with Frenchman Alexis Badel, who made the fifth meeting of his sophomore Hong Kong season a night to remember with a double of his own.
Badel brought Confucius Spirit with a well-timed run to take the first section of the Class 4 Kyoto Handicap (1200m) at 24/1 for title-leading trainer Frankie Lor, but it was his victory aboard enigmatic Danny Shum-trained gelding Lucky Girl in the nightcap, the Class 2 Tokyo Handicap (1650m), that proved particularly poignant.
“Of course, I think it is important to break the ice, so the first winner is always important,” Badel said. “But it was really good to win for Danny in the last, he gave me a lot of good horses last time and he’s really supported me again this time.”
Confucius Spirit wins the first section of the Kyoto Handicap.
Noted for his awkward and gangly physique, Lucky Girl does not immediately appear the type who would be suited to the tight confines of the Happy Valley track, and Shum admitted to harbouring concerns before the six-year-old’s course debut in October.
“He was frustrating me last season,” Shum said. “He has all the talent but he just wasn’t putting it together. We even talked about retirement, but the owner said he loved the horse and wanted to keep him in training, so we have been trying different things. I didn’t think Happy Valley would suit him, but his last run was so good even with 133lb to carry – just one more step and he would have won.
“He needs everything to go right for him and he needs to be able to stretch out, but it was a good ride from Alexis tonight – he gave the horse everything he needs to win.”
Lucky Girl wins the Tokyo Handicap.
For Badel, riding Lucky Girl was a careful balancing act that had to be managed precisely.
“I think this horse needs to come from behind, he is better when he chases rather than being in front,” Badel said. “You can’t chase him too much, so the balance was about trying to settle him for the first half for the race but then making sure that he was close enough that he didn’t have to make up too much ground in the straight. For him to balance up and sprint, he had to be close enough.”
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (19 November) for the Bank Of China Hong Kong Raceday. Three lead-up races to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races – the G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m), G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) and G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) – headline the card, which gets underway at 1pm.