In a meeting of firsts, Keagan De Melo and Andrea Atzeni celebrated significant breakthrough victories with momentum-building triumphs at Happy Valley`s season-opening fixture on Wednesday night (13 September).
Recruited to bolster Hong Kong`s world-class jockey ranks, reigning South African champion De Melo and European Classic-winning Atzeni showcased impressive credentials in decisive fashion at only the second meeting of the season with the fourth and fifth rides, respectively.
Making light of Happy Valley`s unique contours, De Melo succeeded at his ride around the city circuit when Caspar Fownes-trained Valhalla won the Class 5 Yi O Handicap (1200m) - only three days after the pair had finished fifth at Sha Tin on 10 September.
Atzeni quickly followed suit when the Sardinian prevailed on Mega Bonus for Ricky Yiu in the second section of the Class 4 Tai O Handicap (1200m).
Winless in three outings at Sha Tin on Sunday, De Melo displayed telling poise in the straight when Valhalla was blocked for a rails run, coolly changing course before peeling out to down Vamos and Multimore.
De Melo was predictably elated after breaking through.
“Firstly, thank you very much to Caspar and his team for the opportunity. I`m really grateful to everyone for the opportunity and to The Hong Kong Jockey Club for having me,” the South African said.
“I had a nice rails run, but it closed up and I had to switch out. There were nervous times up the straight but I managed to get out in time, which is the main thing. I think this horse enjoyed the patient ride and he quickened very well today, whereas at his last start he was just flat-footed a little bit. Well done to Caspar and his team for backing the horse up so quickly.
“It`s a good start and I enjoy these types of courses, so hopefully it can be onwards and upwards from here. Everyone says how tough it is and to get a breakthrough like this very early, I`m very lucky to be in this position.”
Fownes was delighted to have snared a win with Hong Kong International Sale graduate Valhalla, who placed only once in 16 previous starts.
“This horse has been such a disappointment. He backed up really well. It was not a nice watch at the 200m, but luckily he switched off their heels and put them to sleep very quickly,” Fownes said.
“I just hope he can go on with it. It`s unfortunate because in his first ‘prep`, before his first start, I thought he was flying and then he fell over badly and had a couple of problems and he was never the same horse. It`s been a long journey back. I appreciate the owners being patient and I hope we can repay them again.”
Referring to De Melo, four-time Hong Kong champion trainer Fownes said: “Obviously the guy can ride, being champion of South Africa. He`s obviously got talent and it`s like anything – if you get the opportunities you can perform. I`ll throw a few decent rides his way and I`m sure others will start to support him. I wish him the best.”
Atzeni rode in Hong Kong during the 2014/15 season and has returned with renewed determination and zest.
“It`s been a while since I`ve been here and nice in only my second meeting back here to bang in a winner. I must say Ricky Yiu has been very supportive from the minute I arrived and it was nice to get the first winner for him,” Atzeni said.
“The place (Hong Kong) hasn`t changed much but what I would say is I have changed, which is the main thing and I`m enjoying it.”
Derek Leung and Luke Ferraris shared riding honours with doubles.
Leung prevailed on Manfred Man`s Kowloon East Star and David Hayes-trained Harmony N Blessed while Ferraris made an equally auspicious start to the season with a brace aboard Francis Lui`s Hameron and Xponential for Douglas Whyte.
Lui slotted a double with Joy Coming, under Keith Yeung, and Hameron, while Hugh Bowman and Tony Cruz continued bright starts to the season with D Star.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday (17 September).