Horse Racing
Valley still vibrant as 2020 approaches

By Graham Cunningham
17/12/2019 17:15

Another year draws to a close and another year of highlights for the Happy Valley history books. The world’s most celebrated city racetrack has changed enormously since it first staged racing back in 1845 but its capacity to thrill remains unmatched and Graham Cunningham reflects on some of 2019’s key moments.

Simply the best

A dramatic finish to the Valley’s sole Group race of the year. Simply Brilliant battled home bravely to give Alexis Badel the biggest success of his HK career in the January Cup only to part company with his rider soon after the line. Badel smiled through the pain for winning pictures with Frankie Lor and connections before heading straight to hospital for treatment on a broken wrist.

Douglas departs

Douglas Whyte was given a hero’s farewell on his last night riding at the Valley. The 13-times champion failed to snag a winner but that was of no concern to his adoring public, who packed the rails as he said goodbye to a track where he rode almost 600 winners and recorded three LONGINES IJC victories. “I’m going to miss the electricity of the Valley,” he said. “It’s moulded into me now – it’s in my blood.”

Victor’s Fab Four

Victor Wong chose the night of Douglas’s departure to announce himself on the Valley stage in dramatic fashion, landing three of the first five races then completing a tremendous four timer when course specialist Moment of Power made every yard in race seven. The leading apprentice was on 38 wins when injury ended his season in May.

Way to go for Champion’s

Champion’s Way maintained a perfect start to his career and made it two Valley wins in three weeks with an easy success under Zac Purton. John Size’s gelding continued to thrive across town at Sha Tin and ended the 2018-2019 season with six wins from seven starts before being honoured as Champion Griffin.

Star shines in Million Challenge

Another young Size improver excelled at the city track as Country Star landed the popular Million Challenge series. The Starcraft gelding ended the season with five successes to his credit over the Valley’s tricky 1200m track and claimed the $650,000 first prize for most points accrued in races of Class 3 and above.

Size strikes back in trainers’ title battle

July produced a crucial chapter in a gripping battle for the trainers’ title at the Valley season finale. John Moore drew level with Size on 74 as Magic Legend took race seven but his old rival responded by winning the final two races with True Grit and Tornado Twist. Moore saddled another winner on the final day at Sha Tin but Size captured two to seal his eleventh championship.

Blake breaks HK duck

Star Aussie rider Blake Shinn reflected on a moment that had been “years in the making” after making all the running for his first Hong Kong winner aboard Danny Shum’s Green Dispatch. “I’m pretty emotional to get it out of the way,” said the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey. “I’ve wanted to ride in Hong Kong since I was a little boy so it’s pretty touching to finally be here.”

Charisma flies Conghua flag

Helene Charisma proved a classic example of how being trained from the HKJC’s Conghua base can revive an ailing cause. Beaten on his first 27 starts in HK, the French G1 winner finally clicked in the Police Cup and ended the year with two more Valley successes to his credit, including a track-record breaking success over 2200m. “He’s a Conghua horse,” said Moore. “He loves it there – and he loves it here.”

Cannon fires to give Lui 600

It was only a humble Class 5 contest but Golden Cannon’s success over 1650m under Vincent Ho proved very significant for Francis Lui. The narrow win gave the veteran local handler his 600th success as a trainer and Lui continued his good form to the end of the year with leading youngsters Golden Sixty and More Than This to the fore.

Karis hits new high with LONGINES IJC victory

A strong book of rides saw Karis Teetan made favourite to beat a world-class field – including Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira – and the Mauritian added his name to a star-studded list of IJC winners thanks to one winner and two places. “It’s not a normal day against the world’s best,” he said. “I was really feeling the pressure but everything went well and I still can’t believe I’ve won.”