GRANT van Niekerk started Sunday’s race meeting at Sha Tin with a zero in his season’s win column, but he rectified that situation with victory in the afternoon’s second trophy contest, the Class 4 Chinese Recreation Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).

“I’m glad the monkey’s off my back,” he said after guiding the Ricky Yiu-trained Simple Elegant to victory in the fourth race meeting of the season.

“With the new jockeys and with Joao (Moreira) becoming a Club rider this season, things are competitive,” he said.

The South African overcame gate 11, grabbed the lead, rolled along and kicked down the straight to a l1.25-length success in a Class record time of 1min 21.15sec.

Champion trainer John Size was another to notch his first score of the term. Moreira was the man who made sure Monkey Jewellery’s head was first past the post in the Class 4 Sunbird Handicap (1200m).

But while Van Niekerk and Size celebrated their first winners of the new season, it was defending champion Zac Purton who stole the show with a quartet of winners.

The champion jockey saw a 26-meeting winning streak end on Wednesday last week, but banished that rare blank with a trophy-lifting return.

He added sheen to his four-timer in the Class 3 Fakei Cup Handicap (1200m) thanks to a belated breakthrough win from the British import Solomon’s Bay.

Solomon’s Bay has so far shown a propensity for not fulfilling apparent promise and is yet to live up to the potential of a pre-import Listed win at Epsom.

“Overall, he’s been disappointing,” he said. “He promised so much when he first came here but now he’s finally won a race and he’s still quite lightly-raced here, so hopefully he can go on from this. He’s still not the finished product.”

Solomon’s Bay’s win opened trainer Frankie Lor’s account for the season.

“It’s always good to get the win,” the handler said. “This is a bit of a difficult horse… so that’s why I got Zac to ride him.”

Purton had earlier wasted no time in regaining the winning thread. The Australian ace took the opener, the Class 4 Hwamei Handicap (1800m) in Class record time (1min 46.54sec), to give trainer Dennis Yip his first win of the term.

And the champ gave the same favour to John Moore, the seven-time champion trainer getting his opening win with Buddies in the Class 3 Swallow Handicap (1650m, all-weather).

“All of us have got off the mark – Size, Lor, myself, we’re all off the mark today! It’s good,” Moore said.

Purton bagged his fourth win in the finale, the Class 3 Woodpecker Handicap (1400m), when the Danny Shum-trained Happy Fun gave his all to hold off second-placed dead-heaters Cot Campbell and Mighty Maverick.

The champion ended the day on top in the premiership with eight wins to rival Joao Moreira’s six. – Hong Kong Jockey Club

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