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Ensued, Joyful Hunter shape as Four-Year-Old Classic Series aspirants

December 28, 2023 at 4:21:04 AM

Ensued and Joyful Hunter emerged as potential Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders with quality performances at Sha Tin on Saturday (23 December) as Pierre Ng continued his advance on the Hong Kong trainers’ championship with a double.

Ensued and Joyful Hunter emerged as potential Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders with quality performances at Sha Tin on Saturday (23 December) as Pierre Ng continued his advance on the Hong Kong trainers’ championship with a double.

Ensued (115lb) showcased BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) credentials with victory in the Class 2 Yan Chai Trophy Handicap (2000m) under Karis Teetan for 12-time Hong Kong champion trainer John Size before Francis Lui’s Joyful Hunter charged into Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) calculations with a devastating win under Vincent Ho in the Class 3 Pine Handicap (1200m).

Size, who has won three Hong Kong Derbies, was impressed by Ensued’s latest win – the former British gelding’s third success in Hong Kong.

“He’s done that well. He likes his racing, he’s got a very good temperament and he does everything pretty easily,” Size said. “I think stamina is his strong suit and it’s what he has in his favour.

“He showed before he came here that 2000 metres would be no problem. It wasn’t my opinion, it was that he showed he can stay before he was in Hong Kong, and that’s why I put him in a 1800m race on his first start.

“He’s won three out of four and you can’t deny him anything at the moment. He’s now well into Class 2, so he’s got to be given that opportunity (in the Hong Kong Derby).”

The BMW Hong Kong Derby on 24 March is the third leg of the HK$52 million Four-Year-Old Classic Series, which also features the Hong Kong Classic Mile on 4 February, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 3 March.

Teetan was also positive over Ensued’s progress.

“I thought the race panned out really well. In the straight, when I peeled him off, he really quickened up and when he hit the front – he’s still a baby – and he was waiting for the other horses to join him,” Teetan said.

“You would think the Hong Kong (Classic) Cup and the Derby would be his trip, the Mile would be too short for him but he’s got potential. He’s improving all the time and he gave me a good feel today. He’s definitely on target for those races.”

Lui, who swept the Four-Year-Old Classic Series with Golden Sixty in 2020, said Joyful Hunter had the characteristics to be above average, but he is following a conservative path with the Darci Brahma gelding.

“He looks like a Four-Year-Old (Classic) Series horse but you have to give him time. I think he will be a good horse but you have to be careful,” Lui said.

Last on the home turn, Joyful Hunter scorched across the last 400m in 22.47s.

Ng extended his streak of training at least one winner at successive meetings to 15 race days when Starship Eighty prevailed in the Class 5 Hibiscus Handicap (1600m) under a wonderful ride by Teetan.

Ng, who leads the trainers’ championship with 39 wins, 16 ahead of Danny Shum (23), has saddled 27 winners across the past 15 meetings.

“As long as the horses are keeping fit and healthy, we can keep doing a bit more,” Ng said. “Hopefully we can continue to have more winners. There’s a lot of meetings to think about and a lot of work to do.”

Fighting Machine was the second leg of Ng’s brace, prevailing in the Class 4 Ivy Handicap (1400m) under Zac Purton, who slotted a double to have 46 wins for the campaign – 15 more than Teetan (31).

Purton linked successfully with Shum aboard Nordic Star to snare the Class 4 Holly Handicap (1650m, dirt) as the globe-trotting galloper posted his first Hong Kong victory.

“Everything worked out well, he had a good barrier (one), a good ride and he just won. I think 1800m could be better for him,” Shum said of the Brazilian-bred gelding, who previously raced in Uruguay, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The five-year-old was a Listed winner at three in Uruguay and Group 3-placed in Dubai.

Ng’s domination continued on a day where others savoured drought-breaking success, including Jimmy Ting who slotted his second winner of the season when Luke Ferraris drove The Absolute to victory in the Class 4 Erica Handicap (1400m).

“Every year is tough, and I hope that some of the new horses can run well and we can have better results. Hopefully, the winners can keep coming,” Ting said.

Keith Yeung posted his first victory since 25 October when Jubilation scored for Chris So in the Class 4 Amaryllis Handicap (2000m).

“The horse is lovely to ride. 2000m is definitely his distance and because we went so slow today, it suited him. He wants the race tempo like this and we gradually improved the pace every section and then he finished off really nicely,” Yeung said. “Having a win is always good for the confidence.”

Dennis Yip and Alexis Badel combined with Vantastic Choice to land the Class 4 Cedar Handicap (1200m), while James McDonald and Ricky Yiu scored with Adefill in the Class 3 Spruce Handicap (1650m, dirt).

Leslie’s explosive acceleration under Derek Leung enabled Michael Chang’s charge to land the Class 3 Poinsettia Handicap (1400m) at odds of 55/1.

Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Tuesday (26 December).

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