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Harry Bentley conquers Happy Valley on first ride at the city circuit

April 22, 2021, 7:49:49 AM

During an obligatory three-week quarantine period in a high-rise hotel overlooking Happy Valley racecourse, Harry Bentley capitalized on unconventional track study by winning the Class 3 Pottinger Handicap (2200m) on Vincy on Wednesday (21 April) night's meeting.

Bentley reveled in a dream baptism of fire by triumphing on his first ride at the course when Douglas Whyte's Vincy shattered the track record in 2m 14.14s – bettering Helene Charisma's 2m 14.88s mark set in 2019.

On his seventh ride in Hong Kong after six outings at Sha Tin on Saturday, the young Englishman was ecstatic after delivering a poised, calculated ride atop a galloper more known for near misses than wins.

“A blend of, I think, relaxation – not because it's been a long time coming or something, this is only my first time riding here. It's fantastic – first trip around Happy Valley and a win,” Bentley, 28, said.

“I arrived early today and walked the track by myself. I just got a sense of the location and soaked it all in. It obviously moves differently than it rides, but I was given a good stall (two) and was able to follow Joao (Moreira) around – there is no better guy to follow.”

Bentley used details gleaned from his hotel window during quarantine to telling effect during his three-month stay before the end of the season in July.

“I've been watching racing here for the last few weeks when I've been in my hotel looking over the course, so to come here and win on my first trip is fantastic,” he said.

“My bed was halfway up and looked over much of the track; there was a portion of the back straight and the top end that I couldn't see, but I was able to watch the two meetings that were here from my room.

“I was flipping back and forth from watching TV and staring out my window.”

Bentley praised Whyte's support, saying, "Douglas has been awesome, he's given me strong support." It's really very something coming from someone like him, and I'm grateful for the chances.

“Coming here to Hong Kong, obviously I know nothing about the city, and he provided some interesting insights that were both insightful and helpful.”

Whyte was overjoyed to provide Bentley with his first winner, despite admitting it had taken an eternity for "the penny to drop" for Vincy, who took 28 starts to break through and has now claimed two of his last four.

“I knew what it was like to be tossed into the deep end going to Hong Kong with nothing behind me, no encouragement, with all hopes in front of me,” said the 13-time champion jockey. “I'm happy I was able to give him the chance to win his first race for me.

“He rode the track incredibly well for someone who had never ridden at Happy Valley before. He's a skilled rider, he's got a decent, level mind, and he's got a nice look, so it'll serve him well in the future.

“He's got a perfect pair of hands on him, and if you can do that, you'll win a lot of races. He got off the rail at the right time; if he had stood on the rail and waited, we would have been beaten, but he got off at the right time and he had energy, which is what Happy Valley is all about.”

Split Of A Second, ridden by Antoine Hamelin, also won the first part of the Class 5 Duddell Handicap (1200m) – the gelding's first victory since 5 December 2018.

Fearless Fire won the first section of the Class 4 Edinburgh Handicap (1650m) with Blake Shinn and David Hayes aboard, giving the seven-year-old his second victory in a row and fifth overall in Hong Kong.

Shinn increased his seasonal count to 18 after winning for the third time in a row, while Hayes now has 20 winners for the season after winning at each of the last six meets.

Man savored a double with Cantstopthefeeling, who claimed the Class 4 Pedder Handicap (1000m) for Vagner Borges, while Me Tsui (22 winners) and Matthew Poon continued their strong seasons with Telecom Rocket's victory in the Class 4 Garden Handicap (1200m).

Poon then directed Frankie Lor's The Runner to victory in the first segment of the Class 3 Queen's Road Central Handicap, his 27th victory of the season (1200m). Lor increased his 2020/21 total to 50, tying him for third place with Danny Shum and Francis Lui behind John Size (57) and Caspar Fownes (54).

Lui surpassed the half-century mark for the season when High Rise Soldier charged late for Vincent Ho to win his first Hong Kong race at the 20th attempt by winning the second part of the Class 3 Queen's Road Central Handicap (1200m).