Fa Fa leads DBS x Manulife Million Challenge, chases Sunday’s Hong Kong Classic Cup

Declan Schuster

22/02/2022 14:40

Fa Fa is a six-time winner at Happy Valley.
Fa Fa is a six-time winner at Happy Valley.

Leading the HK$1 million DBS x Manulife Million Challenge with Fa Fa on 60 points, trainer Frankie Lor hopes his charge has done enough to maintain top spot without competing again as he bypasses the finale on Wednesday night (23 February) at Happy Valley for Sunday’s (27 February) HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) at Sha Tin.

“Hopefully he can stay there – but my (former) boss John Size has Special M, who is on 48 points, so he can pass us, but we’ll see,” Lor said.

The annual DBS x Manulife Million Challenge is a points-based contest for horses competing in races rated Class 3 and above at Happy Valley, with 15 points for a win, six for second, four for third and three for fourth. This season’s competition commenced on 8 September, 2021 and closes tomorrow night – boasting a HK$650,000 bonus for overall victory.

Chasing Fa Fa with entries at the midweek card is Special M in second spot on 48 points, while Cheerful Days – who sits in fourth place on 45 points – lines up in the HK$2.4 million Class 2 Shan Kwong Handicap (1650m) for trainer Francis Lui, chanced with the opportunity of equalling Fa Fa at the top of the leader board with victory.

“Hopefully – it would be nice to win (the Million Challenge),” Lui said. “I think after we ran him at Happy Valley for the first time, he changed, and he learnt a lot.”

Cheerful Days wins the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m).
Cheerful Days wins the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m).

Cheerful Days’ first try at Happy Valley last term resulted in a win; he now boasts six wins overall including a further three at the city circuit, while his biggest scalp came earlier this month in the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin.

“He’s in good form and he’s still in good form now, even at Sha Tin he has shown he can win there – he’s improved a lot and he’s a healthy horse,” Lui said.

After commencing his career rated 52 in Hong Kong, Lui’s Smart Missile gelding now sits on a mark of 95 as a six-time winner from 19 starts.

Tomorrow night, Alexis Badel takes the reins for Lui from gate 12 after capturing Group 1 glory last Sunday (20 February) in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) atop Wellington.

Aiming to leapfrog Fa Fa and claim top spot, Special M – trained by John Size – contests the Class 3 King Kwong Handicap (1000m) at the midweek card, shooting for a third win at the city circuit this season.

This Sunday at Sha Tin, Frankie Lor is eyeing a third Hong Kong Classic Cup victory with Fa Fa after Mission Tycoon (2019) and Healthy Happy (2021), hopeful the extra distance enhances his claims in the middle leg of the three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series.

“Last time, he returned to Sha Tin for the first time in a long time for the Hong Kong Classic Mile and he was also interfered with in the straight, so I think a little bit further should be better for him – 1800 and 2000 metres,” Lor said.

Fa Fa finishes 12th in the Hong Kong Classic Mile behind Romantic Warrior.

Harry Bentley takes the ride this weekend against the likes of Romantic Warrior, California Spangle, The Irishman, Ima Single Man, Senor Toba and Rocket Spade.

“I know there’s a few horses that are quite strong in the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, but we’ll keep going, I think 1800 to 2000 metres should be better for him,” Lor said.

Fa Fa boasts four wins this term from five starts, looking to recapture his winning thread this weekend.

“Now with more experience at Sha Tin, I think he should be better – he’s been good in the mornings at trackwork,” Lor said.

Lor also saddles Money Catcher in the Hong Kong Classic Cup for just his third start in Hong Kong after arriving from New Zealand as a two-time runner-up at Group 2 level.

“Last time he ran really good, that’s why I still have confidence he will run well again – especially over 1800 and 2000 metres. In New Zealand he stepped out over 2400 metres, but I think that’s a little bit long for him – 2000 should be better for him,” Lor said.

The Ferlax gelding finished eighth behind Rocket Spade in the 2021 G1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) in March of last year – his final run before export.

Derek Leung rides Money Catcher for Lor after partnering the 78-rater in both of his first two outings.

Wednesday’s (23 February) nine-race fixture at Happy Valley kicks off at 6.45pm with the Class 4 Yuk Sau Handicap (2200m).

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