By Jon Lees
Hong Kong: Former Hong Kong champion apprentice Vincent Ho became a local hero at Sha Tin on Sunday when he delivered the first success by a homegrown jockey since 1995 in the HK$20 million ($2.58m) BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Ho, who has spent part of the last two summers with Mark Johnston in Britain, not only matched Tony Cruz’s victory in the race 25 years earlier but also became the first Chinese rider since Paul Cheng Chung-mou in 1986 when he steered Golden Sixty to a thrilling triumph.
In another first for the region, Golden Sixty’s success for Ho, trainer Francis Lui and owner Stanley Chan marked the first time since the advent of the professional era in Hong Kong in 1971 that a native Hong Kong jockey, trainer and owner combined for victory.
Unfortunately none were able to share their achievements with Hong Kong fans as the race took place behind closed doors under restrictions imposed to counter the coronavirus pandemic.
Golden Sixty swept up the middle the course to reel in longshot Playa Del Puente, who had opened a clear advantage in the straight, just a few strides from the line and triumph by a neck, in the process completing a clean sweep of Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series, following wins in the Classic Mile and Classic Cup.
“I think I can sleep well tonight, all the pressure on my shoulders has just gone,” said Ho, 29, after scoring on the 3-4 favourite.
“I wasn’t too worried. I know my horse can produce a really good turn of foot and he relaxed really well for me through the race. When I saw the winning post, I knew I should be able to get him, as long as the other horse didn’t accelerate again.
“I didn’t mind the tempo – fast or slow – as long as my horse was relaxed and I knew I had to wait until the last bit to ask my horse to pick up. He’s got the best turn of foot in the field and I just had to be patient.”
He added: “It’s such an amazing feeling, my first Derby on a horse that I love so much and he’s such a good horse.”
Ho, who was crowned HK champion apprentice in 2011, made his mark in Britain in 2018 on his very first ride on the Johnston-trained X Rated at Haydock. Last year he rode a winner at the Shergar Cup meeting at Ascot.
Hong Kong champion jockey Zac Purton was quick to praise the rider. “It’s never where you start, it’s where you end up, and Vincent has continually got better,” he said.
“Vincent got to ride under a lot of pressure during his apprenticeship and that is probably holding him in good stead today. He’s getting a lot of opportunities but you have to make the most of them and he’s doing a good job.”
His former boss trainer Caspar Fownes said: “He’s always been a lovely kid, great manners, respectful, hard-working and I’m sure that in his mind he believes that he can compete at the ultimate level.
“He’s cool and that’s a massive attribute to being a superstar jockey. If he’s getting the same amount of quality rides that Zac and Joao (Moreira) get then of course he can fight with them.”
• Vincent Ho: Timeline of a homegrown Hong Kong hero at hkjc.com