Horse Racing
Big Party poses Group 1 question with Bauhinia Sprint Trophy demolition

By David Morgan
29/12/2019 18:48

Big Party wins his first Group race at the first attempt.
Big Party wins his first Group race at the first attempt.

Big Party (118lb) brushed off six rivals to post an impressive win in the Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m) at Sha Tin this afternoon, (Sunday 29 December).

The manner of the grey’s length and three-quarter victory in a time of 55.71s suggested the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) in three weeks’ time would be a probable next assignment. But trainer Frankie Lor played down such talk in the race’s immediate aftermath.

“Maybe,” was his cautious response to that proposition, “I need to talk to the owner first.”

That is not to say Lor doubts the four-year-old’s ability to mix it with the likes of G1-winning stablemate Mr Stunning: “If you see this race, I think you will say he could be one of Hong Kong’s best sprinters. He’s still young and I hope he can improve further,” he said.

Winning rider Grant van Niekerk echoed that view without a hint of doubt.

“He’s definitely good enough to run in that (Group 1) race, he’s got potential and I think he’s good enough to take on the big guns.” he said.

“He didn’t take on the best in this race but there were still some decent sprinters in there and he won with authority and that must count.”

Big Party eases to victory in the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy.

Lor’s concern is more to do with a three-week turnaround for a horse with a history of issues, having just bagged two wins in the space of only 10 days – this win rolling off a Class 2 1200m score at Happy Valley.

“I need to look at the horse tomorrow morning to see how he is,” the handler said. “After his last run he came back and was eating okay and everything looked good, so I talked to Joao (Moreira) and we decided to race him today. It’s three weeks to the Group 1 so we need to see how the horse is tomorrow and then we can start to think.

“He has had issues with his back and knee but at the moment everything is okay; I need to look after him very carefully. He’s a little bit tricky because he wins and then nothing.”

Van Niekerk found himself aboard Big Party for the first time since April as a result of Moreira being hit with a bout of flu. The South African enjoyed a sweet run as the big Australian-bred purred along, tracking the pace-setting duo of Premiere (127lb) and runner-up Big Time Baby (123lb) before switching inside and roaring on by under soft hands.

“It was a good one. I think he enjoyed the sting out of the ground and he gave me the feel he gave me when I last rode him,” Van Niekerk said.

Lor confessed to being “a bit surprised” with the ease of success and admitted that his task now is to bring a level of uniformity to the son of Exceed And Excel’s performances, which, although having yielded five wins from nine races, have featured a couple of disappointing defeats when odds-on favourite.

“Mr Stunning is very consistent but this horse is up and down; I need to make him more consistent,” Lor said.

Rich win in Griffin Trophy

Rich And Lucky wins the Griffin Trophy under Zac Purton.
Rich And Lucky wins the Griffin Trophy under Zac Purton.

Rich And Lucky justified 1.7 favouritsim to break his maiden in the HK$2 million Griffin Trophy (1400m), giving Juddmonte stallion Kingman his second Hong Kong win within three days of his first.

The race is restricted to three-year-olds unraced prior to import and has been won in recent years by such luminaries as two-time G1 winner Pakistan Star and Hong Kong Derby hero Luger. Today’s edition did not hold quite that promise on paper but the 56-rated winner is entitled to progress for only his fourth start.

“As a three-year-old horse imported from Europe, he has acclimatised to Hong Kong very well, and judging from how he won today, I believe he will have a bright future and could bring his owners plenty of fun,” Ho said.

Champion jockey Zac Purton guided the successful bay, who was purchased out of the March 2019 Hong Kong International Sale.

“We are still yet to see the best of him and I expect he will develop into a 1600-metre to 1800-metre horse. I will see his ratings after today’s win and his progress before I decide on his next target,” Ho added.

Rich And Lucky kicks clear of King Dragon in the Griffin Trophy.

Purton sealed a double when Clear Choice (133lb) clung on desperately to win the Class 4 Wong Shek Handicap (1650m) from Best Alliance (131lb). It was a fourth career win for the Danny Shum-trained six-year-old and first on the dirt.

The Australian made it three for the afternoon when Glorious Artist (120lb) responded to his urgings to wear down top-weight Elusive State (133lb) in a tough running of the Class 2 Chek Keng Handicap (1650m). That gave the Lor stable a double.

Hewitson’s breakthrough

Lyle Hewitson relishes his first Hong Kong win.
Lyle Hewitson relishes his first Hong Kong win.

It was a long time coming but Lyle Hewitson got his first Hong Kong win at the 141st attempt thanks to a well-judged all-the-way win on Last Kingdom in the finale, the Class 3 Pak Tam Chung Handicap (1650m).

The two-time South African champion had his fellow countryman, first-season trainer and 13-time Hong Kong champion jockey, Douglas Whyte to thank for the success.

“It’s a cauldron of fire and if you’re not doing well you can burn to ashes,” Hewitson said of his time so far in Hong Kong. “I just carried on with my positive attitude and fortunately I found someone like Douglas who was prepared to give me the opportunity and put a lot of work into my riding and it really has paid dividends today.

“I’ve only had a short career and it’s only been success so this has been very humbling and I’ve learnt a lot from it, I can tell you, but I’m a better rider than when I won those championships. Now it’s just about making sure this winner opens the floodgates.”

Last Kingdom leads them home under Lyle Hewitson

Whyte had plenty of praise for the 22-year-old’s attitude, ability and work ethic.

“Hong Kong can be a very difficult place at the best of times and Lyle’s had a tough introduction but for me he’s been riding well and he’s given horses a lot of opportunities and he just needed an ounce of luck,” Whyte said.

“I’m happy to use him and I’m very fortunate that I have owners who are willing to give me a little bit of flexibility because everybody knows in Hong Kong when a jockey is not in form it’s very difficult to support them.”

Whyte’s smart start to his training career continued apace today with a double, initiated when Karis Teetan drove Falcon Turbo to victory in the Class 3 Luk Wu Handicap (1400m). The handler has saddled eight winners this month for 17 wins overall.

Matthew Chadwick had to do plenty of cajoling and correcting to get the best out of Fortune Brilliant in the Class 4 Tai Long Tsui Handicap (1200m). Paul O’Sullivan’s charge displayed plenty of greenness in what was his career debut but the penny dropped just in time for him to snatch a half-length victory.

Shining Gem scores under Silvestre de Sousa

Silvestre de Sousa had bagged only one win since a sparkling double on 1 December but ended a quiet month by his standards with a typically never-say-die win on Shining Gem in the Class 3 Long Ke Handicap (1200m). That gave him six wins so far for his mid-season stint and added a 28th success to the tally of trainers’ premiership leader Ricky Yiu.

The handler has his string in searing form and Alex Lai delivered a double for the stable, Mighty Giant (128lb) clinging on by a short-head from the closing Fantastic Show (118lb) to break his maiden in the Class 4 Tai Tan Handicap (1400m).

Keep Winning could just as easily be a clarion call to Michael Chang, who sits at the foot of the premiership. The gelding of that name forged clear under Derek Leung in the Class 5 Wong Yi Chau Handicap (1650m, dirt) to take the G1-winning handler’s total this season to five.

Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Wednesday, 1 January.