Soulmate capped a season crammed with improvement and success with dramatic victory in the Class 2 Bellflower Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (June 8) to justify Ricky Yiu's faith in the talented former Kiwi galloper.
Winless in 2020/21, Soulmate has strung together four wins this term – two at Happy Valley and two at Sha Tin – to rise from 61 in the handicap at the start of the season to the cusp of a triple-figure mark after triumphing as a 91-rater by a short head over BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) third place-getter Money Catcher.
Imported from New Zealand where he was unbeaten in two starts when named Not Ideal and trained by Tony Pike, Soulmate was placed twice in his first eight Hong Kong appearances but he has blossomed this campaign.
Yiu, champion trainer in 2019/20, has long held a favourable opinion of the Nicconi gelding and his faith has been amply rewarded this term.
“He's an easy horse to ride and he's ever so honest. Once he gets to the front he never stops. He's a lovely horse to train,” Yiu said. “I'll pack him up for the season now. He's done a great job this season and he needs a bit longer break to get him ready for next season. He seems to enjoy the small track with the tight bends, it won't be easy to find a race for him at the Valley next season but I'll try.”
Taken to the front on a yielding track by Lyle Hewitson in steady rain, Soulmate (125lb) was rated to perfection by the South African before defying Money Catcher (126lb) in trying conditions. Gorytus (118lb) was a neck away in third place.
Hewitson, who has 20 wins for the season, said: “He's a horse who leads a mile pretty comfortably, so that was always Plan A to lead. I didn't get the best break but I could see straight away that the speed in the first half furlong wasn't extremely quick, so I was able to punch up forward and once I got there, I was able to rate it nicely and allow him go through the gears.
“What I was really impressed with was this horse didn't give up and was really tough to the line.”
Frankie Lor will carry a slender 81-78 lead into the final 10 meetings of the season after taking training honours at the meeting with a double.
Lor first combined with Joao Moreira to land the second section of the Class 4 Dandelion Handicap (1200m) with Excellent Peers, who was given a superb ride by the Brazilian before teaming with Zac Purton as Be Ready surged late to win the second section of the Calla Lily Handicap (1200m).
The stalemate in the battle for the jockeys' championship continued after both Moreira and Purton notched doubles, leaving Moreira with the upper hand – 125-120.
Vincent Ho maintained hopes of snaring a fourth consecutive Tony Cruz Award as the best home-grown jockey when he drove You'remyeverything through a tight gap to win the first section of the Class 3 Calla Lily Handicap (1200m) for Tony Cruz.
Matthew Chadwick leads the Tony Cruz Award standings with 44 wins, one more than Ho.
Former Irish stayer Rise Brethren was the beneficiary of a smart Purton ride, saving ground and forging along the fence to win the Class 3 Camellia Handicap (2200m) for Danny Shum.
“Great ride, Zac saved all the ground. He's won two races this season, so we will send him for a break now and have him gelded. He's done a good job,” Shum said.
A measured ride by Luke Ferraris was pivotal to Richard Gibson-trained Stoicism's success in the first section of the Class 4 Dandelion Handicap (1200m) when, after jumping from barrier one, the Dandy Man gelding prevailed at his 17th Hong Kong start under a facile steer.
“The blinkers look like they've done the trick,” Ferraris said. “He came out of the barriers well, there was a bit more speed than I anticipated, he found himself in a lovely spot on the corner and peeled off heels and really dug deep.
“With his pedigree, being by Makfi, he really handled the conditions well tonight,” Hall said. “He's fit and well, so hopefully he can find another race with similar conditions.”
Ruan Maia's reunion with Francis Lui's Cordyceps One ended in victory when the Hinchinbrook gelding came from last at the top of the straight to land the Class 5 Lavender Handicap (1650m).
“I'm very glad because I know he has ability because I rode him in Class 4 and we finished third – today was Class 5 and even though I was a bit scared of the track, we stayed quiet and he had a good finish,” the Brazilian said.
“Coming into the home straight, I lost my whip so I had to encourage with my hand so I was lucky to get the win.”
Luke Currie extended a strong phase with victory aboard Lucky Diamond in the Class 4 Hibiscus Handicap (1800m) for Jimmy Ting. Defying Surrealism in a desperate battle, Lucky Diamond gave Currie his seventh win of the season.
“He handled the ground and gave me a good feel coming off the corner and he really rallied when the other horse came to his outside,” Currie said.