By Hans Ebert
Visit: www.fasttrack.hk

They were apprentices together, and now as senior jockeys, Hong Kong-born Vincent Ho and Derek Leung are most certainly matching it, and, more and more often, eclipsing the efforts of some of their high profile international counterparts.

Though, of course, it’s been years of hard work, Vincent Ho has blossomed seemingly overnight into becoming a world class rider. Ryan Moore, no less, is said to be very impressed with his talent.

Being the regular pilot for the Francis Lui trained champion galloper Golden Sixty- the home grown equine talent and unraced before arriving in Hong Kong- has certainly helped. It’s turned nice guy Vincent Ho into Winning Vinnie.

Derek Leung might not, at least for the moment, have a champion galloper like Golden Sixty in his “portfolio”, but let’s not forget that he rode Beauty Generation to three consecutive wins before Zac Purton took over the reins.

Both riders- and let’s drop the third world sounding tag of referring to them as being “local”- showed just how good they are on Wednesday night at Happy Valley Racecourse.

It wasn’t a great card, but Ho was coolness personified aboard Stock Legend. The ride, which saw the galloper hopelessly miss the start by many lengths, but somehow get up to win, spoke volumes about how much he has improved.

It was the type of ride one has come to expect from William Pike when riding back in Perth- and who owned the races at Caulfield yesterday with FOUR winners including the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas on Ole Kirk.

Getting back to Vincent Ho and Stock Legend, it was a phenomenal effort by both rider and horse. Race caller Tom Wood who sounded as if he blew a gasket watching the impossible become possible is said to still be recovering. It was a very very good and entertaining call.

Two races later in a 1000 metre sprint, Derek Leung took Classic Unicorn straight to the front from barrier 10 and beat a good group of sprinters with arrogant ease.

It’s also terrific to see another Hong Kong talent in one-time champion apprentice Matthew Chadwick when indentured to the stable of Tony Cruz ride his fifth winner so far of this season with another good and clever ride aboard Mehmoob.

Remember two of the horses with whom Chadwick has been associated- California Memory and Pakistan Star. Though never having lost the ride on the now retired enigmatic galloper, the exploits of California Memory with Chadwick aboard are often overlooked. At his prime, the Tony Cruz trained California Memory was the best galloper in Hong Kong and a regular ride for Chadwick.

What’s going to be interesting at the races today is in the last. Two of the main chances- the John Size trained Lucky Express (4) and the Tony Cruz trained California Rad (7)- will be ridden by Vincent Ho and Matthew Chadwick, respectively.

The former, rejected by Joao Moreira, was a good impressive winner at his last start for Karis Teetan, who was happy to step in as a super sub- and deliver.

The question is what will owner Larry Yung do if Ho wins on his galloper?

As for California Rad, a regular ride for the popular and extremely dependable Mauritian Magician, currently serving out the last day of a suspension, is sure to be watching this race.

With the once very successful Cruz-Chadwick Happy Meal combo seemingly looking as if it might be back in business, who knows which way the wind blows and for whom the bell tolls?

Having said this, Derek Leung aboard Good Luck Friend (8) in the same race might make both of his rivals eat dirt.

Whatever happens, it’s a fascinating race.

Apart from these three senior riders, another Made In Hong Kong product is ten pound claiming apprentice Jerry CL Chau, who received an emergency call up last season when there was suddenly a lack of jockeys.

Chau is proving his doubters wrong. They felt he wasn’t ready to mix it here with the big boys. But he has by riding a double on his first day of riding in Hong Kong. He’s also very quickly conquered the idiosyncratic Happy Valley track.

He rode another winner at the track on Wednesday- the first winner of the season for Trainer David “Darth” Ferraris.

“Darth” was even highly complimentary and smiling behind his mask when talking about the young apprentice whom he compared to his son- very talented young apprentice Luke.

This afternoon, “Jer” has a winning chance on Golden Four (1) in the fourth race and perhaps Private Rocket (4) in Race 8.

Bottom line: We might never see a riding talent from this city like the great Tony Cruz, but the more Hong Kong heroes that Hong Kong racing has, there’s a greater sense of pride in ownership- and a far more interesting, diverse and colourful playing field.

With tourism on Hold, and Hong Kong needing new tourist attractions, it’s good to see a world class product like the city’s horse racing taking the lead by changing organically.

One can only hope that other industries realise the need to be relevant and an attractive magnet in what is ‘the new normal’.

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