A new chapter in the history books of Hong Kong racing will commence writing this evening (Wednesday, October 5) at Happy Valley when Jamie Richards saddles the first of his three runners engaged at the midweek fixture.
“I'm looking forward to it – hopefully the horses can come out and run well, no doubt they'll improve with the run a bit but they should run well,” Richards said.
Flying On The Turf will be Richards' first runner in Hong Kong when he contests the second section of the Class 5 Island Handicap (1200m). Fortune Master and Rattan Kingdom also step out later on the card for the New Zealander.
Unveiled in December, 2021, Richards arrived in Hong Kong late last season to set up his stable after numerous years at the helm of Te Akau Racing in New Zealand, where he trained with remarkable success at home and across the Tasman Sea in Australia.
The 33-year-old is synonymous with training exceptional talents such as Melody Belle, Probabeel, Te Akau Shark, Xtravagant, Gingernuts and Avantage. He was crowned New Zealand Champion Trainer four times (2015/16 [with Steven Autridge], 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22) and set single-season wins and prize money records in the process.
The winner of over 50 Group 1s, Richards is aware of the challenges he faces in an entirely new environment – while lucrative – that is renowned for its unforgiving nature.
“It's very different (here in Hong Kong), from a training perspective the heat and humidity play roles and from a handicap and acceptances point of view it's very different too with trump cards, preferences and the like, so it's taken a little bit of getting used to but we've got Jonesy as our assistant trainer and he has a good handle on all of that.
“There'll be plenty to learn over the next 12 months and couple of years but in time hopefully we can sort it all out,” Richards said.
Currently with 51 horses registered in his stable, Richards' highest rated horse is Buddies who sits on a mark of 88 after transferring as a Group 3 winner from the Tony Cruz yard. Palamos – whom Richards previously trained in New Zealand – is one of several four-year-olds in his care along with Starfire Gems, a 63-rated son of Japanese sire Maurice.
“It's been plenty of different lunches and dinners with all of the owners and working that side of things out but I'm really pleased with the support that the owners have given us and now it's time to do the job for them,” Richards said.
Rattan Kingdom gets blinkers applied for the first time as he looks to give Richards a memorable start to his career in Hong Kong when he contests section two of the Class 4 Wong Chuk Hang Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley.
“He's going well enough, he's going to race with blinkers on for the first time to try and sharpen him up a little bit but he seems to be working well and eating well enough,” Richards said.
Ruan Maia takes the ride from barrier eight this week. The Brazilian has ridden Rattan Kingdom five times prior to Wednesday's engagement.
Fresh off his sixth win and second double this season, Lyle Hewitson takes a strong hand into the city circuit's midweek card with nine rides including Xponential for his greatest ally, trainer Douglas Whyte, in the Class 3 Tai Shue Wan Handicap (1200m).
“It's nice to have got some strong outside support (last weekend) and to repay those trainers with winners is fantastic – I'm very happy with that,” said Hewitson after saluting for Tony Cruz and Peter Ho on Saturday (October 1).
“He's (Xponential) an easy horse to ride, he always give you his best, so I think when you go into the race it is uncomplicated in terms of what you're going to do and you can trust what you're going to get from him too,” Hewitson said.
Xponential finished fourth first-up for Hewitson and Whyte, covering ground to get within two lengths of Beauty Glory who won the contest in the middle of September.
“Our intention was to ride him further back with cover from the wide draw and he came out running from the gates, so I was in an awkward spot without cover and three deep, and from there he was very honest, he kicked up in the straight and ran a solid race.
“If he had of been in what we would call the perfect position, well, he runs first or second, so I was very happy with that performance and he would have come out of that run fitter and stronger,” Hewitson said.