With Sunday’s Sha Tin fixture being the 2016/17 “Season Finale”, Wednesday evening’s last Happy Valley meeting of the campaign was billed as the “Season Fiesta”. And there was a surge of noise from the buoyant crowd of 24,794 when Chad Schofield drove Flying Quest to nick the sixth, the Class 3 King’s Falcon Handicap (1200m), in a blanket finish.
“I could tell he was really surging underneath me and I could tell he was going to hit the line strongly,” Schofield said, “but it was then a question of whether he could get there in time.”
He did – at odds of 101/1. Trainer David Hall’s four-year-old New Zealand import pipped Green Card by a short-head, with the same distance back to Dollar Reward as he sealed a first win at start five in Hong Kong. The winning time was 1m 09.81s.
“He really impressed me; he had a lovely, smooth run in the race – the speed was on. He’s a very young, inexperienced horse and it’s his first time here but he handled it very well. I’d say his last two furlongs were pretty slick, he quickened nicely,” Schofield said. The gelding registered 23.13s through the closing 400m.
Hall enjoyed a race-to-race double in the next as Zac Purton sealed a riding treble on the enigmatic Dr Listening, the 4.2 favourite. The four-year-old was having his third start for Hall after a stable transfer from champion trainer John Size, and Purton was of the view that a change of gear might have helped.
“It was effortless,” he said. “We drew a nice barrier (five), had a lovely run in the race and everything fell into place for us. He got there without having to do any work, it was just a case of whether he was going to go through with it today and, with the addition of the cheek-pieces, he was more game – but then he wasn’t in a fight either, so he didn’t have time to think about it and throw it away!”
That win took the former champion jockey’s haul for the term to 106, having landed a brace earlier on the card. Purton was on Imperial Seal for Caspar Fownes in race three, the Class 4 The King Handicap (1650m) and then scored atop the Dennis Yip-trained Starlight in race four, the Class 4 Maverick Star Handicap (1200m).
“It’s always good to finish the season on a high,” he said. “Things have been going well and I can go away on holiday feeling pretty good about it all.”
Purton sits second in the premiership, adrift of runaway champion Moreira (169). Behind that pair of centurions, Callan increased his advantage over the rest as he all but secured third spot. The Irishman partnered the Peter Ho-trained Eastern Prowess in race two, the Class 5 Street Cat Handicap (1650m), to take his tally to 46.
Fownes, meanwhile, is clear third in the trainers’ premiership after a double on the night took him to 61 for the term. The second half of that brace came in the last, thanks to the deep-closing Southern Legend, G2-placed in Australia and now a Class 2 scorer at start two in Hong Kong.
“I think he’s pretty decent,” winning rider Karis Teetan said after the four-year-old had taken the Sweet Orange Handicap (1200m). “His trial was good last time, with Joao (Moreira) on, and I was very lucky to pick up the ride. I think he’s a really nice horse, he’s not there yet, he’s still a bit green.
“I was able to get in a good position, they were going a nice pace and I just wanted to come through horses,” he continued. “Once I pressed the button, there was a lot there. He’s a smart horse going forward.”
Apprentice Jack Wong kicked off the evening with a win in the Class 4 Bulldozer Handicap (1000m) aboard Silver Spun for his boss Me Tsui. The 5lb claimer took his season’s tally to 16.