Australian ace Hugh Bowman made all the running to hold off his rivals and secure his first win in a dramatic LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday night. It was a case of third time lucky for the jockey after finishing out of luck in 2009 and 2015.
Bowman got his challenge off to the perfect start when taking the first leg decisively on the John Size-trained Premiere to secure an early 12 point lead. Settled just off the pace in the perfect position, Premiere rattled home in the straight to win with a little in hand from Secret Agent, scoring 6 points for Florent Geroux. Pat Smullen on the Richard Gibson trained Powermax, who slightly missed the break at the start, did best of the rest, getting up for third and four points. “He enjoyed the sit off the pace, and came home well. I’m delighted to get off to a winning start,” said the Australian.
Ryan Moore got his name on the score sheet in the second leg when running out the easy winner aboard the Tony Millard trained favorite Giant Turtle, from Douglas Whyte on Danny Shum’s Casa Master, while Joao Moreira picked up four points on Good Choice in third spot. Thus after two legs the points were shared between six different jockeys – Hugh Bowman and Ryan Moore with 12 points, Florent Geroux and Douglas Whyte with six points and Pat Smullen and Joao Moreira with four points apiece. “He went well and did it nicely,” said Moore. “It’s good to get one on the board.”
In a dramatic third leg, Bowman looked to be in the driving seat for the Championship when getting a dream run through in the straight on the David Ferraris trained Kiram. He took the lead, only to be nailed right on the wire by Mirco Demuro on the Peter Ho trained Mutual Joy, who got the result by a short head. Demuro commented: “It was his first time in blinkers and he was a little bit surprised out of the gate, but there was plenty of pace on, and I was able to ride my race from behind. I had to come wide, but he was very good at the finish.”
However, Bowman felt Kiram clipped heels with the leader about 350 metres out, which “might have cost me the race – it’s a game of inches.” In added drama there was a dead heat for third between Florent Geroux (Works Of Art) and Ryan Moore (Midnite Promise), who shared two points apiece.
That left all to play for in the final leg, with Bowman enjoying a comfortable lead on 18 points, Ryan Moore on 14 points, Mirco Demuro on 12 points and Florent Geroux on eight points, all with a chance of securing the crown as the Championship went down to the wire.
Happily for Bowman, none of his rivals made the frame as Japan’s Keita Tosaki took the honours aboard the John Size trained Big Bang Bong from Zac Purton’s Vara Pearl in second and Douglas Whyte’s Cheerful Boy in third, who kept Ryan Moore out of the points by a nose. Tosaki said afterwards: “I am really happy to have won a race here tonight. The first three races didn’t go so well, but I have really enjoyed myself. ”
At the end of the 4 race challenge, Hugh Bowman emerged a clear winner on 18 points, Ryan Moore placed second with 14 points, and Mirco Demuro and Keita Tosaki tied for third position with 12 points each.
Hugh Bowman’s initial reaction appeared to be relief rather than excitement at his victory: “I thought in the last either I had to beat Ryan or we both had to score no points, and he was on the even money favourite. In the run I was supremely confident that my horse could run a place, but he didn’t let down, and I must admit on the line I thought Ryan had run third, so it was an anxious few moments, but we got the victory. I came here quietly confident I could figure, because I had significantly enough rides to score enough points, but you need luck in running.”
It was a frustrating evening for defending champion Gavin Lerena who nonetheless acquitted himself well and produced mid-field finishes in the first three legs of the challenge. Unfortunately he missed out on the final leg after expressing concern about the action of his mount, Nitro Express, in the canter down. On inspection from the course vet, Nitro Express was found to be unsound and had to be withdrawn. However, Gavin made the most of the trip, securing two additional engagements on the night, riding Breeders’ Star for David Ferraris in race 6 and Top Act for Tony Millard in the last.
Total attendance for Wednesday’s banner event at Happy Valley was reported to be 29,601, the highest in the event’s history since 1999. Turnover eclipsed HK$1.238 billion, the second highest for an IJC meeting.
Racing will resume on Sunday, 11 December when Sha Tin Racecourse hosts the HK$83 million seasonal showpiece, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races. South Africa will be represented by Horse Of Fortune (who raced in South Africa as Strongman) in the Gr1 Hong Kong Cup.