Frenchman Antoine Hamelin banished the frustrations of a recent barren streak to produce the first quintet of his career to steal the show at Sha Tin on Sunday (17 January) as Elusive State left Tony Millard contemplating a high-stakes Middle East tilt.
Hamelin erased the frustrations of a 51-ride losing streak with a stunning five-timer – Golden Link, Family Folks, Ping Hai Bravo, Hongkong Great and Tempest Express – to lift his seasonal tally to 13, ending a drought stretching back to mid-December at Happy Valley.
“It’s a crazy day, amazing, I’m very happy,” he said. “It’s been a little quiet, but today I’m jockey of the day.
“To win five races, it’s amazing – last season was very good for me (17 winners), this season has been a little bit quiet.
“But you never give up. You focus, stay strong in the head and you have to keep going. Hong Kong is a very tough place.”
Separated from his family because of COVID-19 restrictions, Hamelin said: “My life is perfect – I’m happy in Hong Kong, I love the life, the city and I have a lot of time for my favourite hobby of climbing.”
Hamelin’s previous best harvest was a quartet.
“The other time was a long time ago in France (at Fontainebleau),” he said.
“I never thought I would do this today with five winners.”
The US$20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh remains Millard’s preference for Elusive State despite the winner of Sunday’s Class 1 Egret Handicap (1650m) not being among the original entries for the world’s richest race.
Millard is keen to contest the US$12 million Dubai World Cup (2000m) on dirt at Meydan on 27 March but would clearly prefer the Saudi Cup on 20 February in Riyadh, where a late entry fee of US$200,000 is required to compete.
“One would have liked to have gone to Saudi Arabia – the Saudi Cup would have been his race over 1800m and that would be the actual race for him,” Millard said before referencing significant obstacles surrounding travel from Hong Kong to Riyadh.
The Saudi Cup (dirt, 1800m) has attracted more than 100 entries headed by a string of G1 winners, including Preakness Stakes winner Swiss Skydiver, Charlatan, Knicks Go, Addeybb, Mishriff, Japan’s Omega Perfume and Danon Pharaoh.
Millard is confident Elusive State would contend regardless of where the All American gelding heads next after Joao Moreira unfurled a supreme tactical ride on the dirt specialist.
“Quite clearly, he gave them a galloping lesson here today because it (the race pattern) wasn’t what we wanted,” Millard said.
“On the back of this, we’ll be definitely be going for the World Cup instead of the Group 2 Godolphin Mile because Joao feels that with him losing his early speed, he reckons that will be the right race for him.
“I don’t think he could have had a better run in than this – I’m quite excited. I think he’s going to be a big runner.
“It’s taken a bit of time to get him back into form. Last year, we had hardly raced him and then with Dubai coming and going (traveling to Dubai before the carnival was abandoned because of COVID-19), it really upset the apple cart.
“It took me time just to get him back into it. Of course, when you run him on grass, you see nothing. Any good dirt horse, they’re not in that Group 1 league.
“I always knew he was that good and when Joao took it up there to go in front, that’s why he’s a champion – he saw where he was, in a hopeless position. That’s the class of the horse, although we changed the tactics, he still kicked on.
“He can run 21 (seconds) for the last 400m any day of the week, so I was very happy with the run.”
“It’s just lovely to have a horse like this and also to have a dream – that’s what it’s all about.”
The most impressive aspect about Elusive State’s ninth Hong Kong victory was his effort to quicken twice – once to surge mid-race from the tail of the field to eyeball favourite Kings Shield before accelerating again in the final straight to down Encore Boy and Red Desert.
Kings Shield faded to finish fifth.
Hamelin’s impressive reign started with Ricky Yiu’s Golden Link in the Class 4 Snipe Handicap (1400m), the victory was the jockey’s first in eight meetings – and it would only get better.
He struck again with Michael Chang’s Family Folks in the second section of the Class 4 Sea Eagle Handicap (1200m), a triumph of clear significance to the trainer, who had previously prepared only one other winner for the season.
“Of course, it feels good. I think this is a nice horse,” Chang said.
Chang’s runners had repeatedly gone close to winning this season, with 11 runners-up finishes and 10 third placings.
But he lamented the overall quality of his yard – with the obvious exception of Family Folks.
“The horses are not good enough, too many old horses – I’m waiting for some new horses,” he said.
John Size’s Ping Hai Bravo gave Hamelin his first treble in Hong Kong after the accomplished European nervelessly piloted the gelding to victory in the Class 3 Heron Handicap (1000m).
Moreira emerged with a double after Beauty Applause claimed the Class 2 Flamingo Handicap (1000m) to eclipse hot favourite Wellington, who finished a close second.
Hamelin then reimposed his dominance aboard Tempest Express in the Class 3 Kestrel Handicap (1400m) in the last race of the day, securing a treble for trainer John Size who on the day, had six runners across the 10-race fixture.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday (20 January)