Danny Shum Chap-shing’s months-long goal of winning the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge with Grateful Heart is within reach ahead of Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting.
The veteran handler identified the speedy four-year-old as the ideal galloper to chase the bounty and Grateful Heart hasn’t disappointed, delivering three wins and a second from four starts at the city track this season.
“It’s been the target since early this season because he started on [a rating of 65] so there was a big chance he could win three or four races,” Shum said.
“The owner is very happy with how it’s going – he’s leading with 51 points and he’s got quite a good chance to win it. He always supports the stable so hopefully we can get the bonus for him.”
Grateful Heart is 12 points clear of nearest rival Delightful Laos in the Million Challenge, which sees runners accrue points in all races in Class Three or above with 15 points for a win, six for second, four for third and three for fourth.
The son of Written Tycoon faces his toughest test yet this week with a step-up in grade for the Class Two Cheung Sha Wan Handicap (1,000m).
“It’s a Class Two 1,000m, which are always fast, but he can jump well and travel in second, third or fourth position, or if they’re not fast he can lead – he’s very flexible,” Shum said of his charge, who steps back to the 1,000m for the first time this season after running exclusively over six furlongs.
“At Happy Valley he has continued to get good results, even 1,000m he can handle no problem.”
Grateful Heart jumps from gate eight under Zac Purton and his stiffest opposition looks set to come from Explosive Witness, who enters the race on the back of victory in the Group Three Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1,000m) at Sha Tin on New Year’s Day.
“He just seems to keep progressing and on paper this looked a good race for him even though he’s carrying top weight,” trainer Caspar Fownes said of Explosive Witness, who boasts 30 Million Challenge points.
“He looks like he’s ready to go to the races again. I looked at the programme and he’s got a great course and distance record, so I may as well take him back to the track he’s done good things at.”
The reigning Million Challenge champion Shining Ace is also in the race, as well as the likes of Multimillion, Massive Pocket and Larson.
Also stepping out on Wednesday night is the current Million Challenge third-place holder, with Scores Of Fun looking to add to his 38-point tally in the Class Three Lai Chi Kok Handicap (1,200m).
The competition, which began at the opening Valley meeting of the season and concludes on February 24, sees the winner pocket HK$650,000, HK$250,000 go to the runner-up and third snare HK$100,000.
Shum will give Grateful Heart one final chance to lock away the loot in three weeks.
“There’s a Class One over 1,200m on the 24th, which will be his last race and then I’ll give him a break,” the trainer said.