There was relief and satisfaction for Neil Callan at Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 16 October) with a double that lifted the ‘Iron Man’ off the cold list for the season.
The Irishman’s campaign so far had in fact been frost-bound: zero wins from 44 rides before this evening and no score on the board since 26 June. But the ice warmed when Owners’ Star sizzled down the stretch to open Callan’s account and the thaw was set fair one race later thanks to Happy Warrior’s late charge.
“It was a bit more relief than usual maybe,” Callan admitted after Owners’ Star carried off the Class 3 American Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1800m).
“I’ve said it numerous times, I’ve been here before, when I first arrived here it wasn’t easy so it’s not like I haven’t been here and done it. I was relaxed because it just comes down to opportunities and I wasn’t getting many good rides.
“I’ve been coming here nearly seven full seasons and on and off for 10. I’ve not ridden one season here when it’s not been competitive – it’s the most competitive racing environment in the whole universe.”
The win aboard Danny Shum’s 19/1 shot had a particularly sweet flavour. Callan had ridden the market second pick Xiang Bai Qi at that horse’s previous two starts only to be replaced by the in-form Joao Moreira.
“I was jocked off Xiang Bai Qi, I wasn’t happy about it but that’s Hong Kong so it was sweeter when I won on Owners’ Star. Danny asked if I’d ride at 121lb; I’ve been on a different diet and my weight had come really good and I was going to the races 122lb and not having to sweat.
“He got into a perfect position from the start and he gave me a lovey kick in the straight, just staying on.”
With his first win in the bag at the season’s 11th meeting, the jockey, 41, wasted no time in following up. Along came the John Moore-trained Happy Warrior in the very next race, the Class 4 Tai Lam Chung Handicap (1200m).
“They’re like London buses, when one comes they all come,” Callan said.
“I’ve been riding him all week, cantering and galloping him, and I said to John he felt that good that, even though it wasn’t his right trip, if they were to go fast and he got the right run, he’d go close. He looked at me like I had two heads, but the horse was fresh, he was just bouncing around and ran a cheeky race.
“Hopefully the tide’s turned for me and hopefully I can stay on a crest for a long time,” he added.
Moore left the track with a double too, having hit the mark earlier with the three-year-old G Unit. The Danerich gelding opened his account at the fifth ask, with Grant van Niekerk delivering the 17/1 shot for a half-length win in the Class 4 Plover Cove Handicap (1000m).
The South African rider had one win from 11 rides for the stable last season and is already two from 12 this campaign.