Lyle Hewitson heads into Wednesday’s (14 September) eight-race card at Happy Valley primed for the mount aboard Valiant Elegance in the Class 3 Deep Water Bay Handicap (1000m).
Happy Valley’s first meeting of the season marks the start of the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge, which runs until 8 February, 2023. The competition is for horses racing in Class 3 and above, with points awarded for first, second, third and fourth place finishes.
A first-up win for Valiant Elegance would bag 15 points in the HK$1 million contest.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him go over 1000 metres at Happy Valley now, especially after the run we saw three starts ago when he stepped up to Class 3. He was ridden with cover and the way he quickened up and hit the line well showed me that he definitely has the speed for the five (furlongs) – as long as he gets out nicely from the inside gate,” Hewitson said.
Valiant Elegance was one of Hong Kong’s most improved gallopers last season, winning four races and soaring to a rating of 68. He breaks from barrier one tomorrow night.
“At least we know that he’s not one dimensional anymore, so the distance coupled with a bit of cover – I think he’ll travel beautifully and there could be another trick up his sleeve as he comes back in trip from a good draw at Happy Valley,” Hewitson said.
The Salade gelding raced exclusively over 1200m last season, however, through his 2020/21 campaign he managed to collect one win – his first – over 1000m at the Valley.
The Douglas Whyte-trained galloper was one of 27 wins for the affable Hewitson last season who steeled himself for a remarkable return to competition following a fall in December.
But the South African rider isn’t content with the status quo and is out to build on his emergence in Hong Kong with a view to climbing further up the jockeys’ standings as well as securing feature race success aboard Russian Emperor.
“I haven’t kept it a secret that I’m really trying to have a breakthrough season and get into that top five area – that would be fantastic but I’ve got a long path to travel to get there and I’ll be working hard to have a lot of success here.
“You can never be content with the way that you’re going. I’m always looking to improve, so obviously from that level I want to improve in every area, even if it is only one percent here and there,” Hewitson said.
A three-time South African Champion Jockey (2017/18, 2018/19 & 2020/21), Hewitson is armed with seven rides at the midweek fixture including Nothing New who contests the Class 3 Repulse Bay Handicap (1650m), also in search of valuable DBS x Manulife Million Challenge points.
“He’s a horse that does race a little bit ungenerously, he likes to try and get on with it a bit more but he is versatile and he’s able to be covered up a bit if the pace is right.
“Last time I just thought that there was a better chance if he went forward and it worked out nicely, although he still travelled quite strongly, he hit a nice rhythm down the back (straight) and went on to win a nice race – I think that it showed that he can do it from anywhere,” Hewitson said.
Hewitson managed to cross from barrier 12 last start to control the pace at Happy Valley, defying the fast-finishing Packing Award who subsequently won at his following start.
“I was more determined to just ride the horse and not the race and with the way that it unfolded I thought he was better off going forward and settling out there which he did nicely. He still kicked on in the straight,” Hewitson said.
The 24-year-old breaks from gate six aboard Nothing New (135lb) as he squares off with Romantic Combo (133lb), Zone D (132lb), Viva Hunter (126lb) and Comet Splendido (123lb) as well as seven others.
“He’s got a good bump up in weight after a strong victory last time which will be against him and he’s not the biggest horse but he is a strong athletic horse, so I think he’ll be able to shoulder it and carry it around but he does have a bigger task on hand this time around,” Hewitson said.
Hewitson isn’t alarmed by the potential of a hotly contested lead.
“I think he’ll still be handy, I think that’s how enjoys his racing but I’m quite encouraged by the fact there is a bit more pace in the race which gives us more than one option,” he said.
Wednesday’s (14 September) eight-race fixture at Happy Valley kicks off at 7.15pm with the Class 4 Big Wave Bay Handicap (1000m).