“Confidence is key for a jockey,” Vincent Ho pushes big two as he chases Derby glory aboard Golden Sixty

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

For hutchishonkers.com

Michael Cox’s Derby Watch

In the lead-up to the 2020 Hong Kong Derby, Michael Cox will provide analysis for Hutchi’s Honkers as the next generation of stars builds up to the big race on March 20. The four-year-old series began with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on January 27, continued with the Hong Kong Classic Cup on February 23 and culminates with the Derby on March 22.

 

13.03.20

 

With 600m to go in last month’s Hong Kong Classic Cup, Vincent Ho was keeping good company.

Riding Golden Sixty, he trailed Ryan Moore on Champion’s Way, Zac Purton was on his back aboard More Than This and, pocketed to his inside, Joao Moreira on Beauty Legacy.

This is the position Ho has worked hard to get to in his 11th season; riding an odds-on chance in a big race, matching skill and nerve with three of the best big race riders in the world, all of them trying to bring him undone. The four favourites grouped together in a tactical battle: Purton, Moore, Moreira and Ho.

Soon, Purton has whipped around him – surging for home on More Than This – and Ho’s reaction is telling. He sits quiet when many would be flushed out and drawn into a duel like Moreira was on Able Friend by Tommy Berry on Designs On Rome in the same race five years earlier.

He sits. Then on straightening, Moore pushes the button and tries to steal the race on Champion’s Way. Again, Ho waits.

Watching two of the best jockeys in the world set their mounts alight early was a serious test of nerve, but Ho’s steady hand was typical of his mature riding in what has been a breakout season. Once he might have been lured into sprinting when Purton came with his run, but with 200m to go, Ho calmly pushes through between the two champions and Golden Sixty sprints, wins comfortably with energy in reserve for the upcoming Hong Kong Derby. It was a game of poker and Ho stared down the bluffs, knowing he had the strongest hand and that there was an even bigger pot ahead.

“There was nothing wrong with their rides, but I had to ride my horse the best way I thought and I did,” Ho says.

When Hutchi’s Honkers spoke to Ho by phone this week, he was on the physio table, receiving treatment for a knee injury aggravated two weeks ago.

“I’ll be fine for the Derby,” he reassures. “It’s just a matter of staying in as good a shape as possible. It doesn’t affect my riding.”

That much is clear from Ho’s outstanding results this season and the Hong Kong Derby looms as not only defining moment for the 29-year-old – but for all local jockeys.

 


 

In 2000, a 27-year-old named Jimmy Ting rode Industrialist to victory in the Classic Mile. Derby glory awaited him, a win that can change the course of a burgeoning career, but trainer Brian Kan called on Gerald Mosse to ride the horse in the big one. Industrialist finished fourth in the Derby, Ting’s career withered on the vine and he eventually called it quits to begin working towards becoming the head trainer he is now.

It has been a pattern played out many times since: the local jockey riding in the lead-ups, but replaced by the fly-in foreign star for the Group 1.

It is why Derek Leung was met with such rapturous applause when he was able to hang on to the ride on Beauty Generation and win the 2017 Hong Kong Mile.

Two starts later Leung was replaced, but Ho seems to have stepped up in the pecking order.

“I do feel like I am keeping rides more often, that has definitely changed,” said Ho, whose career-best 56 wins last season earned him the Tony Cruz Award for leading local rider, to go with leading freelance rider honours in 2014-15.

Joao Moreira and Zac Purton remain the dominant forces in Hong Kong racing, the race-to-race decisions they make shapes betting markets and dictates race planning for trainers. These days the “big two” are less likely to be able to shake Ho from a promising horse like Golden Sixty, which they have no doubt tried.

Behind the big two, Ho is now pushing lightweight Karis Teetan for third spot in the championship but Ho feels the biggest change isn’t necessarily keeping rides, it has been the trust instilled in him by trainers – particular Golden Sixty’s handler Francis Lui – especially when it comes to pre-race instructions.

“This season things have changed a bit,” he said. “Mr Lui has let me do my own thing, he trusts me. Confidence is key for a jockey. If you are confident the horse can feel it and everything is better.”

Vincent Ho has gained the confidence of more trainers like Francis Lui. Photo by Alex Evers for the HKJC.

 


 

Most Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice School recruits are chosen by lean and light body type and athletic prowess, and although blessed with both, Ho had the added advantage of a background in equestrian through his high school years.

Growing up in Clearwater Bay, Ho spent his weekend at riding schools learning showjumping and dressage.

That love of the horse has flowed through his career. When Ho was suspended earlier this season he hastily arranged a visit to famed “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts’ Californian farm for a three-day course. When most jockeys are heading to Maldives or some other exotic locale for off-season holidays, Ho heads to Europe or in recent years England, where last year he competed in the Shergar Cup.

It would be an overly simplistic take to say that riding midweek handicaps in England makes one ready to bump elbows with Purton, Moore and Moreira in a Hong Kong Derby – or on a week-to-week basis at Happy Valley for that matter – and Ho says the benefits are more about his mental approach.

“Of course it helps with my riding but the off-season riding is a way of freshening my mind,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter that I am not riding in big races there, it just matters that I am getting rides and experience.”

“In Hong Kong we race for ten months per year on two racecourses. We race against the same jockeys and the same horses we know, so to ride in the UK is a whole different environment, different tracks. It opens up my mind and means I come back to Hong Kong refreshed.”

Vincent Ho (left) celebrates with Yuga Kawada (centre) and Mark Zahra (right) the Rest of the World team’s 2019 Shergar Cup victory.

 


 

The Hong Kong Derby looms as another tactical test for Ho, for whom all will be gunning for again as Golden Sixty aims to join Rapper Dragon as the only other horse to sweep the four-year-old series.

On a thoroughbred that races in the back half of the field, and in a race with only four genuine chances of the 14 runners he will need to know where they are – to know which horse to be on the back of at the half mile. Four or five chances mean there are nine or ten potential dead ends.

“Golden Sixty is a horse that you have to be patient on and in the Derby it will be crucial to follow the right horses. Zac went early and took me into the race in the Classic Cup, and that helped, but this is a race with a lot of uncertainty and I will study the race and see what to follow.”

A Derby win would catapult Ho further into star status and attach him to a seemingly bombproof horse that is unbeaten in six runs this season and has won nine from ten overall. Golden Sixty will become a Hong Kong four-year-old legend and he looks like a weight-for-age star of the future.

“He looks like a top miler in the making and in my mind he is already a Hong Kong star,” Ho says of the Australian-bred. “But let’s take things one race at a time and get this one – the Derby – out of the way first.”

 

 


 

Make sure you buy Hutchi’s analysis to get his assessment of Hong Kong racing, with credit packages available! Get analysis of all races on the card, including his successful Best Selections and Strategies.

Also NEW for subscribers is the addition of “HH Live”, updates on raceday, including reads on any track patterns, prices moves, best lays and track whispers!