Alexis Badel landed the most satisfying of Classic Cup victories at Sha Tin on Sunday, saluting aboard outsider Healthy Happy after being punted from race favourite Tourbillon Diamond.
Stripped of the Tourbillon Diamond mount to make way for Vincent Ho Chak-yiu after failing to meet the owner’s remit of a top-two finish in the Classic Mile – he finished third – Badel responded with his biggest Hong Kong success.
“You get used to it because Hong Kong is a circle and if you get upset every time someone takes you off or steals a ride from you, you are never going to survive,” he said.
“You just have to take it positively, stay cool and work harder. There are things you can control and things you cannot control.”
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Adding to the intrigue was the fact Ho partnered the Frankie Lor Fu-chuen-trained Healthy Happy to seventh in the Classic Mile, with the decision to settle for the straight swap seeing Badel secure a success that sailed past his two Group Three victories in terms of significance.
“I was very happy to ask Frankie for this horse and he gave me the ride with confidence,” Badel said. “It’s a fantastic feeling, it’s all you work for. I hope it’s only the beginning.”
Badel was at his brilliant best aboard Healthy Happy, assuming the lead and dictating terms throughout.
“I wasn’t supposed to lead but after the way he jumped and the pace I was very happy to put him in front because I was very confident he could stay on well. He was very relaxed in front,” said Badel.
“I just wanted to give my horse a comfortable race without any extra effort and give him some space to use his big action.”
It was a second Classic Cup victory for Lor and both times he’s pinched the race with a leader at long odds, although Healthy Happy’s victory as a $22 hope wasn’t in the same sphere as the heist the likeable trainer pulled off with despised outsider Mission Tycoon ($92) two years ago.
“I thought the horse had a chance but I wasn’t sure if he could win at his first time over 1,800m,” Lor said of the gelding, who raced as Leviathan in Australia.
“I thought the jockey was really smart because he held the time really well so he could steal the race. I think he looked more relaxed and if he gets a good draw he’s got a chance [in the Derby].”
Two runners who laid down significant markers for next month’s Derby were runner-up Russian Emperor and the third-placed Shadow Hero, both exorbitantly priced imports who have taken time to build into their work in Hong Kong.
“As I’ve said earlier, he’s just taking his steps towards the Derby – the Derby is his day,” trainer Douglas Whyte said of Russian Emperor, who jumped at $80.
“I just haven’t been able to push him as hard as I would have liked to but I’ve certainly increased his workload and the blinkers have also helped, so he’s on track.”
The David Hayes-trained Shadow Hero worked home strongly from just forward of midfield in a slowly run race.
“It was a good run. I just wanted him to bounce off that horrible run last start and he did. He will get better again at 2,000m so we will just hold our line now,” Hayes said. “His coat hasn’t even quite come yet so there’s still a little bit of improvement in him.”
Tourbillon Diamond jumped a $3.90 favourite and finished fifth, Classic Mile winner Excellent Proposal was just ahead of him in fourth and the Tony Cruz-trained Packing Waltham ran home nicely into sixth.