By Hans Ebert

There were two moments that some might have missed after Southern Legend raised his game, and with the urgings of Vincent Ho managed to stave off the very gutsy challenge of race favourite Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Champions Mile last Sunday at Shatin.

One was Vincent immediately singling out his “boss” (trainer) Caspar Fownes for thanks following his first Group 1 win.

The other was a very touching moment when Cas- and damn social distancing- hugged his former apprentice while he was still on horseback like a proud father.

Cas might be known to many as a fun guy who doesn’t keep his feelings hidden when he’s trained a winner- he whoops it up, he dances and hams it up for the cameras. We love him for all this because he takes the stuffing out of any stuffiness.

There’s also a very caring side to Cas. And that one photograph of Vincent Ho and Caspar Fownes sharing that special moment together after winning the Champions Mile last Sunday at Shatin spoke volumes.

While the big story might have been the defeat of the John Moore trained and Zac Purton ridden Beauty Generation, personally speaking, the terrific win of the 7-year-old Southern Legend was somewhat muted in the aftermath.

Perhaps it had to do with the larger than life image of the new “beast from the east” and all the marketing and promotion of everything- and everyone- surrounding the champion galloper before the race.

It was as if losing was out of the question. But Southern Legend answered that question. In spades. And when he did, those stories, perhaps already written about another win for Beauty Generation, became confetti.

The script had an unplanned twist to it. Even after both riders and gallopers had given their all, in some sections of the racing media, the story was about the vanquished.

It was not unlike the day when, against all odds, Bullish Luck with Gerald Mosse aboard, turned the tables on and broke the winning streak of his far more illustrious stablemate Silent Witness.

As an aside, when speaking to a lady working at the wonderful Living Legends, home for champion retired horses in Melbourne, and where both horses are enjoying their retirement, apparently Silent Witness is “the dude” over there. His legion of fans come to see him. If he’s in the mood, he allows himself some selfie time with the fans. Few come to specifically visit Bullish Luck. He’s still not been forgiven for defeating the champ. Guess he’s the Sonny Liston in this particular horse opera.

Meanwhile, what’s always held my interest is the ongoing bond between Caspar Fownes and Vincent Ho- real Sorcerer and Apprentice stuff- and the role two horses have played in ensuring that new chapters are written- Rise High and Southern Legend.

Of course, before any of this, there was Cas being the best promotion man for the young apprentice indentured to him. He has never wavered from telling people just what a “good kid” Vincent Ho is. How much he loves him and how hard he has had to work all his life.

Even when Vincent became a freelance jockey and started riding winners for other trainers, there’s always been an “I told you so” smile from Caspar. His young boy is doing good and there’s a very strong mutual admiration society between trainer and jockey. It’s an unshakable bond.

When other riders were trying to unseat Vincent from Rise High, and one of those rare occurrences when Zac Purton, who had won on the horse previously, didn’t have a ride in the race, Cas stood by his former apprentice- and who rewarded him by winning the Group 3 Premier Plate with a brilliant ride.

This win was when many of us began to realise that we were seeing a very special home grown talent. That here was a rider who could be anything.

Then, came a flurry of activities that fast forwarded his career- a stint in the UK where he rode winners in Scotland and Britain. He caught the eye of the great Ryan Moore who became part of his cheerleading squad.

What followed was that watershed moment in his career with Rise High, his incredible “threepeat” this breakout season by winning the Classic Mile, Classic Cup and the Hong Derby aboard the Francis Lui trained Golden Sixty, a galloper purchased for owner Stanley Chan by former pinup female local rider Kei Chiong.

Last Sunday, there was the win of the Boniface Chan-owned Southern Legend for Team Ho/Fownes. The irony here was that the rider for the galloper’s biggest wins- and which were in Singapore- the Kranji Mile two years in a row- was the Zac Attack. He was to head back there this year for more easy pickings. It never happened.

With racing in Singapore in lockdown mode and facing an uncertain future, Caspar Fownes had to map out a completely new schedule for Southern Legend. And with the galloper not getting any younger and needing something new to keep him interested in the game, he was sent to the rarified air of the Conghua training facilities.

Like many others before him, Southern Legend returned to Hong Kong with a new spring in his step. The rest, as they say is history, and with more than a little karma thrown in.

Right now, the Hong Kong riding ranks and Hong Kong racing fans finally have a home grown hero- a soft-spoken, humble and hugely popular young hero. There hasn’t been one since the great Tony Cruz. And just like Tony took the mighty Silent Witness to legendary status when Hong Kong was under that cloak of negativity known as the SARS crisis and needed some positivity, during these uncertain days of Covid-19, there’s Vincent Ho.

It was interesting to read fellow jockey Matthew Poon mention how the successes of Vincent, especially, and Derek Leung, have inspired the other home grown riding talent coming up the ranks to realise that hard work pays off and that anything is possible.

One hears the expression often- Hong Kong’s “Can Do” spirit. Personally, I’ve tired of it. It sounds like cheap chop suey.

No, what Vincent Ho has given Hong Hong as a jockey is a sense of pride.

In every facet of Hong Kong life, especially in the uncertainty of the “new normal” this city faces, there’s a need for new heroes- home grown heroes flying the Hong Kong flag for the world to see.

This is why, we must be thankful for a success story like Vincent Ho. And always thankful to that other Hong Kong boy Caspar Fownes for the role he’s played in helping to make this happen.

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