Trainer Richard Gibson combined with jockey Matthew Chadwick to record a historic first race win at the inaugural Hong Kong Jockey Club race meeting at Conghua Racecourse today (Saturday, 23 March), marking a new era of horseracing in the Greater Bay Area.
They won the Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy (1200m), with the Edmond Yue Kwok Yin-owned Nordic Warrior, which opened the five-race card at the first meeting conducted in the Mainland under the Jockey Club’s jurisdiction in collaboration with the Conghua District Government.
Gibson was delighted to be first on the training winner’s list at Conghua and said the victory fulfilled a prophecy he’d made when he first arrived in Hong Kong for the 2011-2012 season.
“Absolutely this is a very big buzz and big career moment to win the first race here in Conghua and Matthew gave the horse a wonderful ride and we’re delighted. From the moment this race came on our radar we targeted this horse for the race. We expected the pace to be very strong, we know our good horse is a good finisher and Matthew gave him a wonderfully cool, calculated ride.
“I did say when I got the job in Hong Kong I wanted to be the first winner in Conghua. If you look back at the press conference, I said that in quite a loud voice. I’m looking forward to training here, our horses are doing great here and it’s great to be part of history today and to get the Cup from [HKSAR Chief Executive] Mrs Carrie Lam is obviously an extra privilege for us as well,” Gibson said.
Chadwick, a graduate of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice Jockeys' School, was similarly pleased to have his name in the record books.
“It couldn’t have gone better, it was basically a text book ride and he was too good on the day. It’s first time up here for a meeting like this and I’m very happy to be part of it,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick described the track as being in perfect condition. “The track is beautiful. The bit of rain probably helped. The rain made it nice, perfect, beautiful.”
Nordic Warrior runs in the Yue family colours and Gibson made a point of noting the family's contribution to Hong Kong racing.
“Sometimes I don't think the owners get the recognition they deserve and this owner Mr Yue is one of the long standing and most respected owners in Hong Kong. It’s a wonderful, special tribute to him to come up here in his 80’s today and see his colours perform and he was terribly excited before the race. It’s a huge Hong Kong proud moment for him as well and a great credit to him and a special tribute to a man who’s been a wonderful owner in Hong Kong,” the handler said.
Slice of history for Ting too!
First season trainer Jimmy Ting didn’t have a runner in the opening race at Conghua but won race two, the Class 5 Greater Bay Area Cup (1800m), with Dragon Warrior (Chad Schofield) and in doing so maintained an extraordinary record.
Ting has won with his first runners at Conghua, Sha Tin and Happy Valley in a debut season which has seen him prepare 29 winners. “I’m very happy. I don’t really know how to say about winning the first time at each track but I’m happy,” he said.
Ting, like Gibson, hopes at some point to have permanent access to the Conghua training centre. “I really hope that later I will be able to set up here as well as Sha Tin,” he said.
Moore happy to make mark on historic day
Legendary Hong Kong trainer John Moore was on the Conghua scoreboard, and happy to be there, when a rails-hugging ride from Silvestre de Sousa secured victory for The Createth in the Class 4 Guangzhou-Hong Kong Cup (1200m).
“He went right along the paint and it all went to plan. He’s not an easy horse to win with but he’s done it today with great a ride from de Sousa.
“To win here…well, I’ve done everything else you can do in Hong Kong so to win here is like another birthday present. The facilities are second to none here at Conghua. I know it’s a ways from Hong Kong but I've had horses here for quite a while now and I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a fantastic training complex and I’ll be fully utilising it,” Moore said.
Schofield claims first double at Conghua
Jockey Chad Schofield, having earlier won on Dragon Warrior, completed a double aboard the Michael Chang-trained Happy Rocky in the Class 4 Conghua Cup (2200m).
“Yes, it’s great,” said Schofield of the double, “I wish there’d been ten races. I liked my rides coming into this meeting. I thought I’d win the first (on Happy Tour) but he was a bit disappointing. But at the first meeting here at Conghua, I’ve ridden a double out of five races so I’m pretty happy.
“I took a bit of a punt because I’ve got a suspension coming up and chose to ride today. I was choosing a five-race card over a ten-race card so I’m glad it worked out.”
Schofield was also full of praise for the racing surface. “The weather wasn’t so good but the track was superb,” he said.
The third race winner was Lucky Hero, for Danny Shum and Vincent Ho, in the Class 3 Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup (1200m).
The Conghua Racecourse is configured so as to be similar to the Club’s Sha Tin Racecourse and today’s meeting was conducted under exactly the same rules and conditions of any Hong Kong Jockey Club race meeting with the exception of no betting.
Conghua is located within an already well-established tourism district, with natural hot springs and accompanying resorts the chief attraction.
Racing will continue tomorrow (Sunday, 24 March) at Sha Tin Racecourse, in Hong Kong, with the first race at 12.45 pm.