Horse Racing
Alexis Badel delivers front-running masterclass on Healthy Happy

By Leo Schlink
24/09/2023 18:59

Healthy Happy clinches the Group 3 Celebration Cup.
Healthy Happy clinches the Group 3 Celebration Cup.

Healthy Happy claimed Hong Kong’s first black type victory of the 2023/24 season with success in the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (24 September) when a belated reunion with Alexis Badel delivered drought-breaking triumph.

Badel has been aboard in three of Healthy Happy’s five Hong Kong wins – the 2021 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), the 2022 G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) and today’s HK$4.2 million feature – but the Frenchman has not always been available to partner the seven-year-old.

“Someone asked me ‘Why did you only this time ask Alexis to ride the horse?’ and I told them ‘I always ask him, but he’s busy’,” trainer Frankie Lor joked after Badel’s flawless pace-setting display allowed Healthy Happy to lead from start to finish, clocking 1m 21.93s, to defeat Circuit Stellar and The Golden Scenery.

“He (Badel) controlled the pace very good. I’m very happy because this horse has gone a long time without winning. First-up is always best for him. Last season, he was beaten by a good horse, California Spangle, in this race first-up. This season, also first-up, he won.

“There are not many 1400m races for horses with high ratings (107), so maybe I’m looking at 1600m races. The Sha Tin Trophy on 15 October may be too close for him. The Jockey Club Mile on 19 November may be his next start. That would give him more time to rest and return to the races fresher.”

Healthy Happy lands his second G3 in Hong Kong.

Winless in 15 starts since his 2022 Chinese Club Challenge Cup victory, Healthy Happy was able to saunter through first 600m today in a pedestrian 37.08s before Badel gradually upped the tempo.

“It was a lovely run, he’s a lovely horse. He likes to go forward and take the pace. He flew from the machines, so I was left alone very easily and I then increased a little bit the pace and the horse is very good early season using these tactics,” Badel said.

“He gave me a nice kick entering the home straight and he showed good stamina to resist. He’s been a lovely horse to me. I won a (Hong Kong) Classic Cup on him, so it’s one of my greatest memories in Hong Kong – it’s always difficult to win races, big races are even harder (to win). He just keeps trying very hard. He’s an honest horse and he’s been great to me.”

Lor and Badel crowned a productive afternoon when Happy Together snared the Class 3 HKU Faculties Of Arts And Education Handicap (1600m).

In the throes of an excellent start to the season, Francis Lui moved to the top of the Hong Kong trainers’ championship with eight wins to lead Caspar Fownes (five) and Danny Shum (five) after registering a treble with Always Fluke, Yellowfin and Packing Treadmill.

“I’m not surprised but it’s still satisfying because they’re the favourites and they all did well in the morning trackwork,” Lui said. “It’s still too early to say (about possible championship success), but if I can, I like to try.”

Lyle Hewitson celebrates a double as Francis Lui relishes a treble.
Lyle Hewitson celebrates a double as Francis Lui relishes a treble.

Still regaining full fitness following an off-season race fall, Vincent Ho slotted a double with wins aboard Super Legends for Shum and Always Fluke for Lui. Lui teamed with Lyle Hewitson and Yellowfin to snare in the Class 3 Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) before the pair struck with Packing Treadmill in the Class 2 HKU Foundation Handicap (1200m).

Antoine Hamelin savoured his first win of the season when Sparkling Knight posted his fifth win over Sha Tin’s 1000m course to land the Class 3 HKU Business School And Faculty Of Engineering Handicap (1000m) for Dennis Yip.

“I’m very happy. Like everyone, it’s a little bit tough this season – more than we’re used to – because there are less horses, more jockeys but we keep going on and we keep doing the best and when you have this horse and the support, it’s fine,” the Frenchman said.

Zac Purton combined with Ricky Yiu and talented Green N White after Michael Chang celebrated his first victory of the season when Bear Slam charged home under Andrea Atzeni to post his fourth career – and the veteran’s first since February, 2021.

Earlier, Pierre Ng-trained M M Nebula survived a desperate challenge under Matthew Chadwick from Zac Purton on Son Of Makfi.

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (27 September).