Peter Ho Leung secured the first group I of his training career when Packing Winner finally turned the shadow into substance, fighting off odds-on favorite Viva Pataca to mark a memorable graduation to Hong Kong racing’s elite level.
Owner Lee Wan Keung was one of the first owners to give Ho support when he started out in 1997, and while the pair have enjoyed many good days together, they all paled by comparison with the HK$8 million Citi Champions & Chater Cup (2,400 meters) May 24 at Sha Tin.
It was, however, a second Champions & Chater for jockey Douglas Whyte, who had won the 2002 edition on a rain-soaked Sha Tin course for Ivan Allan on Cheers Hong Kong.
The race also spelled the end of Viva Pataca’s Horse of the Year aspirations, leaving the contest to be battled out beween Sacred Kingdom and Good Ba Ba.
Ho was beaming with pride as the horse be bought in New Zealand as a yearling had climed to the top of the tree, fulfilling the promise that was there for all to see when he smashed the Sha Tin 1,800 meters record earlier in the season. Packing Winner was the 39th individual group I winner for his sire Zabeel, who also sired the 2005 Champions & Chater hero Vengeance of Rain.
In his last start, Packing Winner had run a brave fourth to Archipenko in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup April 27, and despite the fact he was only three-quarters of a length from Viva Pataca that day, there was a massive disparity in the betting in this rematch.
“I didn’t think I had him 100 percent in the QE2, and I thought he had improved since that race,” Ho said. “I was fairly confident that he would run the 2,400 meters all right, but I wanted to see that Douglas would be able to put him to sleep in behind them. Once that happened, he travelled beautifully and I was very happy.”
Whyte has been a huge part of the Packing Winner story, having ridden the gelding in 13 of his 16 starts. And the Durban Demon believes there is better to come from the 5-year-old, who still does a number of things wrong in his races and is far from the completed article.
The Champions & Chater was the 14th and final group I of the season, and was Whyte’s first at the top level since Armada claimed the 2007 Stewards Cup.
“For group one races here it’s imperative to be on the good horses and being able to stick with them,” Whyte began. “Armada’s neen a good campaigner but he’s been off for a whole year, so thank God that Packing Winner has come along.”
Whyte said the improvement factor makes him think Packing Winner can continue to measure up at the top level when he returns next season as a 6-year-old.
“I think he’s shown in his last two or three runs he’s improved a lot. He did a number things wrong today during the race, and nearing the line, it was the first time I had to dig down and give him a few reminders and he suddenly wanted to run left..
“So he hasn’t been the easiest horse to train or ride but there is definitely improvement to come because he hasn’t been mentally mature -- he’s lightly raced and still learning what the game’s about. But when you recall how he nearly ran through the running rail with me one day, you can quickly appreciate that he’s come a long, long way.”
John Moore said an incident on the side of the track, when Win Practitioner moved up and pocketed Viva Pataca, had made the difference between victory and defeat.
“With Win Practitioner putting him in that spot, Darren has had to wait and go back on Viva Pataca before coming around them,” Moore said. “I think it was enough to make the difference. He looked the winner when he ran to them at the 200 meters, but his run just ended.