De Sousa, Marquand Share Longines IJC Title

To the victors go the spoils | HKJC photo

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Coronavirus dictated that it wasn't exactly business at usual at Happy Valley Racecourse for the staging of Wednesday's Longines International Jockeys' Championship. But there was a return to at least some semblance of normalcy, as a crowd of about 11,000 fans filed into the stands and into the beer garden to watch Silvestre de Sousa finish level with Tom Marquand to cause a dead heat for just the third time in the history of the event. The duo shared HK$700,000 (£73,544) in prize money.

COVID-19 had already resulted original IJC invitees Yuga Kawada and Jye McNeil being sidelined for the meeting, and the virus claimed a third would-be participant Wednesday when France's Mickael Barzalona tested positive. Zac Purton was a warm favourite to bag a third IJC, but at the end of the day, he struck out, and the competition saw a different jockey win each of the four legs, forcing a countback to decide the winner–or, in this case, winners.

Vincent Ho, who will team up with Golden Sixty (Aus) (Medaglia d'Oro) for a three-peat attempt in Sunday's G1 Longines Hong Kong Mile, struck in the first leg of the sequence driving the 8-1 chance Handsome Rebel (Aus) (Denman {Aus}) to a narrow victory over Faribault (Aus) (Zoustar {Aus}) (video) for trainer Jamie Richards.

Derek Leung took Barzalona's place in the IJC and made the most of the opportunity in the second leg, scoring by a short head astride 135-pound topweight Win Win Fighter (Ire) (Elzaam {Aus}) after favoured Royal Pride (Aus) (Medaglia d'Oro) slashed through one off the fence and looked on his way to victory (video) for McNeil's replacement Hugh Bowman. In was another feather in the cap for the homegrown Leung, whose previous crowning moment came aboard Beauty Generation (NZ) (Road to Rock {Aus}) in the 2017 Hong Kong Mile.

Neither Marquand nor De Sousa had pointed heading into the third of the IJC races, but that changed when Marquand's 11-1 chance Winning Dragon (Chi) (Ivan Denisovich) pegged back longshot Red Majesty (NZ) (Ferlax {NZ}), who was well-rated from the front by Lyle Hewitson–subbing for Kawada–but just failed to see it out at nearly 40-1 (video).

With as many as nine chances heading into the finale, it was De Sousa who capitalized from close range on Adios (Aus) (Snitzel {Aus}), just holding off a late surge from Red Lion (Ire) (Belardo {Ire}) (video), a two-time winner and seventh in the Brittania H. at Royal Ascot this year for trainer Andrew Slattery when racing as Finach McHugh (Ire). Red Lion would have made Australia's Jamie Kah–who took a Class 3 handicap earlier in the evening for Douglas Whyte–the outright winner on the occasion of her 27th birthday, but the event was declared a tie, as both Marquand and De Sousa posted fourths in other legs of the series. Ho's best finish outside of his was a fifth-place effort, while Leung's next best was a sixth.

“To finish joint-top with Silvestre is pretty epic,” said Marquand, who finished tied for second behind Zac Purton here 12 months ago. “He's been champion jockey back home, he works so hard and is someone you look up to in the weighing room. It's a huge honour and sometimes you have to pinch yourself that these things are happening.”

Marquand's wife Hollie Doyle, third in the final IJC race after being under a COVID cloud until she was cleared to participate Tuesday, closed the Happy Valley meeting with a 9-1 upset of the Class 2 United Kingdom H. (1800m) on Spirited Express (Aus) (No Nay Never).

De Sousa, winner of the 2018 IJC, said: “I'm just delighted. It's my second time winning and I finished placed another time. In the last leg I just felt the crowd and although it was a long last half furlong, thank God he got his head down and we gave it everything.”

 

 

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