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Mark Newnham lands first Hong Kong win with Happy Hero

October 12, 2023 at 3:24:02 AM

Fulfilling a career ambition, Mark Newnham joined the ranks of Hong Kong’s winning trainers with Happy Hero’s success at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (11 October) with a triumph which took the Australian horseman by surprise.

Fulfilling a career ambition, Mark Newnham joined the ranks of Hong Kong’s winning trainers with Happy Hero’s success at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (11 October) with a triumph which took the Australian horseman by surprise.

Newnham had hoped to post his first winner in the jurisdiction last Sunday (8 October) at Sha Tin with either Mission Bravo and All Is Ready but those plans were thwarted when the meeting was cancelled because of Typhoon Koinu.

Newnham, 55, prepared more than 400 winners in Australia before transferring to Hong Kong to start the latest chapter of his training career before the start of this season. Having saddled only 12 runners across the first eight Hong Kong meetings, the former jockey embarked on a deliberately patient start before Happy Hero’s breakthrough.

“I’m just pleased to get one on the board, I thought it would be last Sunday but anyway, those two will have to wait,” Newnham said after teaming with Lyle Hewitson to land the Class 5 Yau Tong Handicap (1650m). “I’m really excited.

“I only got back from the Sydney two-year-old sale (Inglis 2023 Ready2Race Sale) this afternoon, rushed home, got changed and came straight here, so it was worth the effort. To come to Hong Kong to train is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and to get the first one (winner) is very exciting.”

Unplaced in 10 previous starts until tonight’s victory, Happy Hero is by Pierro – a horse Newnham rode in most of the five-time Australian Group 1 winner’s trackwork and trials for champion trainer Gai Waterhouse.

“I rode that horse (Pierro) his whole life,” Newnham said. “He’s (Happy Hero) shown good improvement each week he’s been with me. Lyle’s ridden him in work quite a few times and in the trials.

“He’s just gradually improved the whole way. When he drew badly (barrier nine) it dampened my confidence a bit. I just thought he’d be a good place chance and then in running when he was back last, I thought ‘Well, he’ll probably just run home into a place,’ but he surprised me with how well he finished.

Douglas Whyte’s patience was rewarded when former Aidan O’Brien-trained galloper Ivy League collected a HK$1.5 million PP Bonus when the Galileo gelding fought doggedly to snare the Class 3 Hang Hau Handicap (1650m) under Keagan De Melo.

“It’s taken a while with this horse, he’s taken time to adjust and to get his weight down,” Whyte said. “It’s taken a long time to get to him fit. Now he is fit, we can look at races over a similar distance or a bit further.”

A dual winner in Ireland, Ivy League was placed at Group 2 level before export to Hong Kong.

Diamond Soars, a Deep Field five-year-old, broke through at his 20th attempt for Ricky Yiu and Angus Chung, who then clinched a double aboard Cody Mo-trained Happy Fat Cat. Vincent Ho and Jamie Richards combined with Happy Day before Jerry Chau drove Exuberant to the line for Danny Shum.

Shum took his season’s tally to 10 wins for the campaign with a double, combining in the meeting finale with Zac Purton as Lightning Bolt clinched the Class 3 Cha Kwo Ling Handicap (1200m) to secure outright leadership in the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge.

With his second win at Happy Valley this season, Lightning Bolt has 30 points to lead Heroic Master (19), Dancing Code (15), Hameron (15), Harmony N Blessed (15) and Helene Feeling (15).

David Hayes deflected the credit for Lean Hero’s victory in the Class 4 Tiu Keng Leng Handicap (1650m) after the Maurice gelding secured his third Hong Kong win.

“I must say thank you to Hugh Bowman. He didn’t go outside a horse and his ride was the difference between winning and losing,” Hayes said.

Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday (15 October) with the running of the HK$5.35 million G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m).

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