Derek Leung capped a steely treble at Sha Tin on Saturday, 14 March when Simply Brilliant earned just reward in the afternoon’s feature, the Class 1 Lung Cheung Handicap (1600m).
Leung left little to chance on the Frankie Lor-trained chestnut, a lesson learned from a luckless defeat the time before at Happy Valley. On that occasion, the rider found himself trapped fence-side and then pocketed behind a wall of horses; this time, he settled his mount in a stalking spot, with naught but air to his outer, perfect for a centre-track rattle to the winning post.
“Last time he ran very well, he was very honest but we got held up and he missed the kick – even at the winning-post we didn’t have room. That gave me confidence for today,” Leung said.
“We sat two-off the rail this time because I wanted to make sure he had a clear run and when I asked him to let down, he gave me what we needed.”
Simply Brilliant’s (121lb) unchecked run was enough to edge the Blake Shinn-ridden Harmony Victory (122lb) by a head, with Encouraging (113lb) and Fat Turtle (120lb) the next two across the line in a blanket finish. The winning time was 1m 33.67s.
Lor was delighted to see his stalwart galloper earn a first win since he took the 2019 edition of the Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m); and the handler revealed that he had no hesitation in sticking with Leung.
“If he had got a clean run last time he might have won, but this time, I just put Derek (Leung) on again and he rode a very good race today,” the trainer said.
Lor is now looking at the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) as a possible port of call for the Frankel gelding, whose performances in the past year include a fine third to Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m).
“You can see his ability in his form,” Leung said. “He’s chased Beauty Generation in big races so he’s always had the quality, he’s just older and with this weight in this grade it was ideal for him.”
The three-timer was Leung’s first such haul since the glorious afternoon of 1 October 2017 when he guided Beauty Generation to a front-running win in the Group 3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m), a success that set the ball rolling on the subsequent champion’s epic rise.
And on the eve of BMW Hong Kong Derby week, with those days of Beauty Generation and a Group 1 win in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile two years and more distant, Leung delivered a timely reminder of his talents.
“I always try my best and challenge myself,” Leung said. “This week, all the pressure for the Derby is on Vincent Ho with Golden Sixty and we don’t have any pressure.”
The rider, 31, is set to partner Lor’s Reliable Team in the ‘blue riband’ in eight days’ time, an outsider against his fellow Apprentice Jockeys’ School Graduate’s star mount, with Ho and Golden Sixty bidding to complete a perfect three-from-three in the Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
“My horse is a front-runner, so I’ll try to help him finish strongly. I’ll let him move forward and see what happens against Golden Sixty,” Leung said.
The two-time Tony Cruz Award winner (2017, 2018) – as the circuit’s leading ‘homegrown’ jockey – was in a determined groove throughout the afternoon.
He ensured Joao Moreira was on the losing side of a duel in the Class 4 Tseuk Luk Handicap (1800m, dirt) as his strength kept Gala Night a neck to the good over the Brazilian’s mount, Foodie Princess. Leung was up top when Gala Knight prevailed at Happy Valley 10 days ago and today’s front-running success gave him a 23rd win from 326 rides for the John Moore stable, going back to November 2008.
“He’s a good stayer – he’d been giving me a good feeling in the morning. He won well last time and is only three years old,” the rider said.
“On the all-weather track, if you find the front you have an advantage, so once he got there he wasn’t going to stop – I just had to ask him a bit earlier because he hasn’t got the acceleration, but at the 400 (metres) he was at full steam already and he stayed on.”
Leung’s judgement and strength were again evident in the next, section one of the Class 3 Sheung Hei Handicap (1400m). The rider once more set the tempo, this time on the Danny Shum-trained Smoothies (122lb), and was powerful in the drive to hold off Ho on High Rise Soldier (119lb) by a short-head.