By Hans Ebert

To some, he’s come out of nowhere. But not to those who remember him when Vincent CY Ho first appeared at the start of the 2009/10 racing season as an apprentice indentured to the Caspar Fowness stable. Cas, who remains very much part of the rider’s support system, was quick to tell everyone that he was “a good lad and always willing to listen and learn”.

On Sunday, the former apprentice won the Hong Kong Derby. Vincent Ho had “arrived”. It was a natural career move from what he had shown the season before. But this year, he’s shown that he’s not just “good for being a local jockey”. No less than Ryan Moore has mentioned that Vincent Ho has all the makings to be a world class rider. He might already be there. In fact, the first person to congratulate him on his Derby win with a message was Moore.

How and where did Vincent Ho go from being a quiet achiever to making headline news for all the right reasons? Put it down to complete focus and dedication.

Riding week in and week out these days against two of the best riders in the world in Zac Purton and Joao Moreira has helped him watch, learn and fine-tune his riding skills. So has, over the years, ridden in Hong Kong against other world class names like Moore, Christophe Soumillon, Hugh Bowman, Silvestre de Sousa, Gerald Mosse etc.

During the last off-season, he rode with some success in the UK, he got to know the lay of the land, and, as usual, absorbed everything around him.

When he returned for the start of the current Hong Kong racing season, he was prepared to take on all comers.

Though not having the same swaggering confidence of Zac Purton- who does?- Vincent Ho says what’s needed. Nothing more. He seems to know the competitive nature of horse racing, especially in Hong Kong where one is only as good as their last win, and so leaves his talking for the races.

On Sunday, his strong partnership with another low-key individual- trainer Francis Lui- reached another level with the win of Golden Sixty in the Derby.

The team had combined previously to win the Classic Trial and Classic Cup. These wins were to lead to Sunday’s date with destiny and the final leg of the series for four year olds.

As the race progressed, and riders jostled for positions, Blake Shinn decided to take things into his own hands and circled the field in an extremely daring and clever move on Playa Del Puente.

At odds of close to 300 to 1, Shinn looked to have the race in his keeping- that is until Golden Sixty produced his customary withering run and overhauled the leader.

With new race caller Mark McNamara doing an excellent job of adding to the drama that was unfolding, Blake Shinn might have not won the race, but he didn’t exactly lose it either. He just came up against a potential superstar.

Golden Sixty broke the course record for the race and Vincent Ho became the first homegrown talent to win the Hong Kong Derby since Tony Cruz’s win in 1995 aboard Makapura Star.

Interviewed after the race, Vincent Ho might have wanted to sigh a sigh of relief heard throughout Hong Kong after all the pressures he must have had to deal with and leading up to this day- and this watershed moment in his career, but he seemed to still be absorbing everything.

His answers could have been distilled into one thing: total confidence in his horse. After the races, he apparently went to the stables to feed Golden Sixty some carrots. He’s a good lad.

At a time when Hong Kong has had to deal with almost a year of social unrest and watch this city bashed and shaken and stirred in the name of “change” and hashtags before now being covered in a blanket of fear known as Covid-19, this was a small but significant win for Hong Kong. Jockey, trainer and owner are all native Hong Kongers.

There’s another thing: despite a smattering of people on course and the main medium to watch horse racing these days being television, what’s the bet that no one missed any of the excitement?

The 2020 Hong Kong Derby will go down in history as one of the most best seen in Hong Kong- the best for reasons that go beyond horse racing. And to constantly achieve this should be the objective of how horse racing becomes relevant to the new normal.

The new normal. It’s more than a game changer. It’s a huge paradigm shift that’s seeing what is a life changer throughout the world.

#HKDerby #VincentCYHo #FrancisLui #HKJC #HKracing #BlakeShinn #Covid-19 #Hongkong