Leung's back in the fray
Jockey Derek Leung provided the heartwarming story of the day and sent out a warning salvo to some of the world's best riders in one fell swoop at Sha Tin last Sunday.
That was the day he made a triumphant return from injury with a victory on Master Gold in the Class 4 Hankow Handicap over 1,650m.
The local jockey had not ridden since Oct 23 after a fall on the Sha Tin all-weather track left him bruised and concussed.
Leung could have been forgiven for being ring-rusty after a month out of action, but he credited fitness sessions while on the sidelines as being the difference between winning and losing on Peter Ho-trained Master Gold.
"For me, I'm so glad to be back. It is what I love to do and it is always tough to just watch. I made sure I worked on my fitness during my break and I knew that I was going to be strong enough late. We are sportsmen - we have to be as fit as we can be when we go out to compete," said Leung.
His attention now turns to tonight's LONGINES International Jockeys' Championship, in which he is one of four riders representing Hong Kong, alongside Joao Moreira, Zac Purton and Douglas Whyte.
The quartet wil take on eight of the world's best horsemen, namely Hugh Bowman (Australia), Michael Barzalon (France), Pat Smullen (Ireland), Mirco Demuro (Italy), Keita Tosaki (Japan), Gavin Lerena (South Africa), Ryan Moore (UK) and Florent Geroux (USA).
Leung, who made an encouraging IJC debut last year, believes he has what it takes to beat some of the best in the business on home turf.
"Last year, I actually did quite well. I was fifth overall, which was better than any of the other Hong Kong representatives," he said.
"The one thing I found interesting was that these were some of the world's best riders, but they all rode Happy Valley differently. Some took off early, some waited, but they were different. And that is, I think, my best quality for this competition.
"We ride here all the time, we know the horses, we know Happy Valley so well, that it is an advantage."
South Africa's champion Lerena took the top honours last year when making his first appearance in the IJC.
He finished with gusto to take the last two legs of the four-leg series and is delighted to be back.
"It's fantastic to be here and to test yourself against the very best. You wouldn't pass it up for anything," he said.
"I'm not too sure about the strength of my rides but that was also the case last year. I'll just go out there and enjoy it, do my best and hope for the best." - HKJC