Soumillon shines in return to racing after covid recovery
Returning to competition for the first time since early November, Christophe Soumillon wasted no time in authoring an ominous statement of intent as the Belgian ace successfully started a short-term riding stint in Hong Kong.
The 10-times French champion jockey posted a double, a feat matched by Joao Moreira and Jerry Chau, as Frankie Lor logged a treble to narrow Caspar Fownes’ lead in the trainers’ championship to 31-27.
Conceding he is pitted against two of the world’s top five jockeys – Joao Moreira and Zac Purton – Soumillon has no plans to rest on his laurels after resuming with a brace, outlining plans to ride at 120 pounds before his stint ends on 14 February, 2021.
“I’m really happy, it’s a good start,” Soumillon said after winning on Bella Baby and Winning For All.
“Unfortunately, today, my draws weren’t the best, so I had to find a way to ride a bit differently to the way the horses normally like it.
“I got two winners but with better draws today, maybe I could have got one more.
“But it’s a good start, I feel really well – I’m still not 100 percent fit, I think I’m still at 90 (percent).
“More racing and trackwork will make me stronger.”
Nine out of Soumillon’s 10 mounts earned prizemoney, with two minor placings bolstering his victories.
Sidelined because of COVID-19 and forced to sit out the International Jockeys’ Championship and the Hong Kong International Races after also missing the Breeders’ Cup meeting, Soumillon is anxious to capitalise on his latest Hong Kong cameo.
“I’m older, I have so much experience now – good and bad – I feel fitter and more focused,” he said.
“That makes me improve in the end, I came here with a smile on my face – you can’t see with this mask on but I’m really happy to be back.
“When you see all the support I get from the owners and the trainers, that’s something that really proves that they want me to be back in the game.
“I’m very happy also with my weight because a few years ago, I couldn’t ride 122 (pounds). I’m going to try to get to 120 (pounds) in the next few weeks – that’s my target.
“The thing is when you come here, you can show people that you are motivated and you can still do what you do best, it’s good to get a nice start. I’m very happy.”
It took a mere 57.64s for Soumillon to announce his return, coolly steering Bella Baby – a HK$4.2 million Hong Kong International Sale Graduate – to victory in the program opener, the Class 5 Sunflower Handicap (1000m).
“Wow, of course everybody wants him,” trainer Chris So said after Bella Baby’s success.
“Christophe (Soumillon) called me in the middle of November asking for any rides to support him and I just said ‘I don’t have much in Class 1 but I have one Class 5 over 1000m – Bella Baby.’
“Christophe did a really great job – this horse is not an easy ride. Sometimes he is too keen and fights with the rider. He has good hands, he’s a champion – you put him there and he does the job.
“I didn’t tell him how to ride the horse.”
Francis Lui was similarly complimentary after Soumillon drove Winning For All to victory in the Class 3 Calla Lilly Handicap (1200m).
“He did a good job,” Lui said. “He (Winning For All) had a bad draw, but he jumped and relax him, and found a good position.”
Moreira takes two, Lor hits 200
Moreira, who nurses a 16-win lead over Zac Purton in the 2020/21 jockeys’ championship, snapped a 27-ride losing streak when Fortune Master scored in the first section of the Class 4 Roselle Handicap (1400m).
The Brazilian had endured the frustration of logging 10 minor placings since Gouten Of Garo’s Happy Valley success on December 9 and, in further evidence of a change in fortune, he swiftly sealed a brace aboard All For South in the Class 3 Dandelion Handicap (1200m).
All For South’s win was the first leg of a treble for Lor, who logged his 200th success as a trainer with Celestial Power in the Class 3 Firecracker Vine Handicap (1600m).
“We need to have a good stable team and then that the horses are healthy and then good enough to win,” Lor said of his meteoric rise since being granted a full license for the 2017/18 racing season.
“The first two seasons (were) really good. Now the horse ratings are going up and some horses are getting older.
“At this moment, I need to find the good horses.”
Ridden by Matthew Poon, Celestial Power’s triumph was followed in the final race of the afternoon, the Class 2 Bellflower Handicap (1400m) by Happy Healthy for Karis Teetan.
Douglas Whyte was quietly confident Carroll Street, a debutant in the Class 4 Geranium Handicap (1000m), would acquit himself well against talented opposition but never dreamt the PPG (Privately Purchased Griffin) would prevail so emphatically.
“I thought he would be in the first three. I didn’t think he would win like that,” Whyte said after the Australian-bred gelding downed hot favourite Forte by one and three quarter lengths under Jerry Chau.
“When you bump a horse (Forte) that’s one-for-one and 1.7 favourite, you don’t come here with a lot of confidence to take him on.
“He did a very good job. He got held up a bit there, but he has got a turn of foot.
“The main key to him is that he wants to be ridden quiet, he wants to catch a breath and he wants to get into a rhythm.
“He’s just not a horse that copes with pressure the whole way. He needs to think about things and then let go.
“That’s why I’ve taken time with him. He could have gone either way but fortunately, he’s gone the right way.”
Whyte and Chau sealed a race-to-race double when Super Ten landed the second section of the Class 4 Roselle Handicap (1400m) from Leading Fortune and Ultra Express.
On an afternoon when the focus rested on the most decorated competitors in the jockeys’ room, Dylan Mo celebrated a deserved success aboard the David Hall-trained Demons Rock in the Class 4 Hibiscus Handicap (1200m).
Hong Kong racing continues this Wednesday (23 December) at Happy Valley.
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