UNBEATEN galloper Conte continued his rise through the grades with a professional win in the Class 2 Kwong Wah Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin on Saturday, but trainer John Size indicated the four-year-old may now take a break before he attempts to make it six in a row.
Conte (123lb), who had found himself in a pace-setting role in most of his wins to date, instead was amongst the chasing bunch on Saturday, settling third under jockey Joao Moreira behind fellow four-year-olds Lockheed (125lb) and Dragon Lips (125lb).
At the top of the straight, Moreira chased Conte through a gap that appeared near the inside, but Tommy Berry, riding second favourite Easy Go Easy Win (123lb), attempted to steal a break centre track.
In what developed into a tough battle over the final 200m, the two market-elects raced clear; at the line, Conte had a half-length to spare over Easy Go Easy Win, with Lockheed holding down third two and a quarter lengths away.
“Conte can’t do much more than win, so from that point of view I’m pleased,” Size said. “It was a slowly-run race and he was held up at times, but I thought it was a tough effort for him to beat the other horse so it was still a very good effort.
"We thought he might lead but other riders wanted to lead so it just made his job a little bit easier. It’s more been by circumstance that he’s ended up on the lead in the past, but I was never concerned about him settling behind runners.
“I’m not sure if he’ll keep running,” the trainer continued. “He’s won five races so he might be looking for a little break. I’ll make that decision in a couple of weeks. He’s done a good job though to get as far as he has so I’m not really planning ahead with him.”
Size then made it a double in the closer, the Class 2 Po Yan Handicap (1200m), when 9/1 shot Perpetual Joyance (124lb) rattled home off a brisk tempo to score under Olivier Doleuze. The handler’s House Of Fun (133lb), sent off favourite, finished third under Moreira.
“It was a very fast-run race, they went a little too quick,” Size said. “House Of Fun was there to win the race, but Perpetual Joyance was able to take advantage of the fast pace and he was the last horse on the scene so he gets the victory.
"He needs a solid tempo – he’s better at Happy Valley because they roll along but he doesn’t usually get that speed here, but today he did. He’s been amazingly consistent though, so he’s done very well.”
Nothing ‘Ugly’ about Tsui’s Warrior as Ho brings up 200
Earlier, jockey Vincent Ho brought up a milestone with his 200th Hong Kong winner aboard Me Tsui’s unbeaten three-year-old Ugly Warrior in the Class 3 Waterloo Handicap (1200m) on Sha Tin’s all-weather track.
Ugly Warrior had won his first two starts comfortably over the same course and distance, but the son of Swiss Ace produced his most impressive effort yet, racing clear by two and three-quarter lengths.
“Of course, I am delighted to have ridden my 200th career winner, but I’m especially excited that it came aboard this horse, because he’s good,” Ho said. “I think he might be a new dirt star in the making. The best thing is, he has a great mind-set – in the mornings he is so relaxed, but in races, he looks a different horse. He is so professional in his races.
“I know his rating will go up again, but I would expect him to be very competitive again next time out.”
Schofield strikes Treasure as he brings up double
Jockey Chad Schofield took riding honours with a Class 4 double, steering second starter Refined Treasure to victory in the Bonham Handicap (1000m) and the Derek Cruz-trained Elusive State to win the Shatin Pass Handicap (1650m).
He had particular praise for Tony Millard’s Refined Treasure, who showed early speed to lead and then held his rivals at bay to record a two-length success.
“I trialled him before his debut run and obviously everyone saw that trial, where he performed nicely against some established types like House Of Fun and Premiere,” Schofield said. “Unfortunately, on debut, nothing went right for him but I was happy to be on him today.
"After he jumped so well and he showed his speed, cruising along out in front, he was never going to lose. He did have a horse pestering him but to my guy’s credit, he did everything professionally, it didn’t faze him and he ran right through the line.”
Trainer Paul O’Sullivan expressed a sense of relief after Planet Star (122lb) held off the late bid of favourite Lucky Time (132lb) to win the Class 4 Tung Wah Group Of Hospitals Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m). It was the Denman four-year-old’s first run at the distance, having primarily raced over sprint trips before struggling with the 1650m at Happy Valley at his most recent start, and his maiden victory.
“I know he’s taken 12 runs to win a race, but he’s been unlucky a few times, he does a lot wrong and he’s still a work in progress. I think he’s still got something in front of him,” O’Sullivan said.
“His biggest problem was, he wouldn’t change legs. He’d stick on that inside leg, you couldn’t get him to switch no matter what, and he’d just get tired. That’s why I do think, once he does get his act together, there is improvement in him.
“That was a cunning plan from ‘K C’,” continued O’Sullivan, referring to winning rider Derek Leung. “I wasn’t sure whether he should go forward or back, but Derek came in and said, ‘I’m going to go forward’ and it proved the right decision.”
Racing returns at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (February 14th).