South Africa's champion jockey Gavin Lerena made his first appearance in the Longines International Jockeys' Championship a hugely successful one, when swooping late to take the last two legs of the four-leg series, and pocket the HK$500,000 winner's check. Pointless after two legs of the Championship, it was some turnaround for the South African ace.
“I love Hong Kong,” Lerena shouted as he returned to unsaddle after his win on Superoi. “In the last race the trainer Derek Cruz gave me a lot of confidence and told me we had the best horse in the race. A lot of owners and trainers are confident and this time it was right. Coming here my dad told me just to enjoy myself, so I was feeling no great pressure. I would certainly consider coming to ride here, this is the best place to be, and the atmosphere is electric. It's great to be riding against such great riders, and we have a lot of respect for each other. I am very happy to have won this tonight.”
A wet night and rain-softened ground might have made finding winners a little more difficult, but could not dampen the enthusiasm of Hong Kong race fans on Wednesday night at Happy Valley as twelve of the best jockeys in the world battled it out in the 2015 renewal of the Longines International Jockeys' Championship.
Current British champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa kicked off his night in brilliant style when taking the first leg of the Championship and 12 points on the Tony Cruz-trained Happy Spirit. Sent off as the third choice in the race De Sousa broke his mount alertly from the gate to take a spot at the head of affairs and set an honest pace from the off. Rating his horse in the back stretch he set sail for home off the home turn and opened up a lead of a couple of lengths, and just had enough to hold off the challenge of Ryan Moore aboard the late charging Go-Getter, trained by John Size. Japan's Keita Tosaki did best of the rest in third on the Almond Lee-trained First Sight Love.
“That was a great start,” said De Sousa, “The plan was to go forward as the horse doesn't have a great turn of foot. He broke well from the gate and I was able to dictate things from the front. I asked him for his effort in the stretch and he had enough to hold on.”
The second leg of the Championship produced an outstanding finish with the judges unable to separate Ryan Moore on the David Hall-trained Happy And Healthy and Japanese champion Keita Tosaki on True Comment. Derek Leung took the minor honours on Speedy Wally for trainer Paul O'Sullivan.
With nine points apiece for the dead-heaters, Ryan Moore led the table with 15 points from Keita Tosaki on 13 points and the first leg winner Silvestre De Sousa, not adding to his score in the second leg, relegated to third.
South Africa's representative Gavin Lerena was next to throw his hat into the Championship ring when taking the third leg on Mr Right for trainer Peter Ho. In a driving finish he held off the late thrust of Maxime Guyon's desperate challenge on St Yazin, with Douglas Whyte back in third on the David Hall-trained King Of Household.
“I wanted to get to the lead earlier,” said Lerena, “but there was an awful lot of speed on early. It worked out well in the end. It's a great thrill to win at Happy Valley.”
So going into the final leg there was all to play for with Moore on 15 points, Tosaki on 13, and De Sousa and Lerena tied for third on 12 points each.
Having got off the mark in the third leg, Gavin Lerena promptly doubled up in the final leg aboard the Derek Cruz-trained Superoi, from Joao Moreira (Sparkling Sword) and Derek Leung (Beauty Kingdom). Lerena gave Superoi a beautifully judged ride, settling his horse in about 8th spot early on while the leaders cut out a fierce early pace. Improving around the turn for home Superoi made rapid strides to hit the front and could be called the winner some way from the line, where Lerena punched the air in triumph as the Championship became his.
Lerena's two wins secured the Championship with 24 points, while Ryan Moore finished the evening in second spot on 15 points with Keita Tosaki in third on 13 points.
Triple Crown-winning rider, Victor Espinoza was among four of the 12 competitors who failed to score a point in the competition.
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