Hong Kong excels on world stage with successful staging of 2023 LONGINES Hong Kong International Races

Pierre Ng’s inexorable rise continued at Sha Tin on Monday (1 January) when Taj Dragon provided the young trainer with his first black type triumph with comprehensive victory in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).

Handing Andrea Atzeni his most important win in Hong Kong, Taj Dragon (116lb) swept to a two-length margin over 2022 winner Healthy Happy (117lb) and Beauty Joy (123lb) as Ng posted his 40th winner of the term to boost hopes of clinching the trainers’ championship in only his second season.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ng, 40, said. “I think the whole stable was thinking we could only get prize money against some of these big horses, so the fact we won will mean we’re happier at the dinner tomorrow night.

“I didn’t think he could beat the good ones. Before Andrea mounted up, we were just hopeful he could get top three, but today he really impressed a lot of people.”

Ng is uncertain of where to head to next with lightly-framed Taj Dragon, who boasts five wins from 13 starts in Hong Kong after winning three races in Great Britain as Taj Alriyadh.

“We will see how many ratings points he gets put up. Obviously, he’s not a big horse to carry a heavy weight, so we will have to see. It’s a very big step if we do run him in a Group 1, we will have to see, but he hasn’t let us down from day one.”

Leading the championship by 16 wins from Danny Shum (24), Ng said: “This season we got a lot better horses and hopefully we’re just gradually preparing them to be higher-class horses. I’ve got a feeling we have more to come.”

Atzeni, a Classics-winning rider in Europe, snared his most important Hong Kong success.

“What a horse. He’s a young horse, up-and-coming. I thought he would run well but I just wasn’t sure at the moment if he could beat the big guns, but he obviously is,” the Sardinian said.

“It’s nice to get a nice winner on the first day of the year and a nice winner, actually and things are going great.”

On an afternoon of breakthroughs, Zac Purton notched his 50th win of the season with a treble with victories aboard Storm Rider, Fire Ball and Endeared to lead the 2023/24 jockeys’ championship by 17 from Karis Teetan (33), while James McDonald ended his five-week stint with a three-timer.