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Picture : Keagan de Melo rode a fine front-running race on the rank outsider Speedstar in just his second ride in Hong Kong and made the frame despite odds of 23/1 (HKJC)

Keagan de Melo had his first three rides in Hong Kong at the opening meeting of the season at Sha Tin yesterday (Sunday) and he immediately learned how competitive it is going to be.

He rode a faultless race on the Caspar Fownes-trained six-year-old gelding Valhalla in the fifth race, a class 5 event over 1200m. He rousted his mount out the gates from stall 3 in a fashion typical of Hong Kong racing and secured the rail. He then switched in for a run in the straight and could not have got more out of his mount than he did. A 3,50 length fifth for the 12/1 shot was a good effort.
De Melo had said to the press in the build up about his two Hong Kong jockey compatriots Lyle Hewitson and Luke Ferraris, “They’re good mates of mine. Obviously, they’ve pointed me in the right direction. There’s only so much they can do for me. I’ve got to go out there and make a name for myself, but they’ve given me some good pointers. You can be friends out of racing, but in racing, you’ve got a job to do at the end of the day. Riding in South Africa is very competitive, but you want to make it on the world stage. Hong Kong was the next step for me. I thought it was the right time.”
De Melo’s next ride was in the seventh and once again he rode a faultless race on the David Hall-trained five-year-old Sweynesse gelding Speedstar, who was the biggest outsider in the field in the class 4 1400m event. From draw three he got to the front and set a steady pace. He set sail for home and with challengers coming from all around he managed to hold on for fourth place.
In the last race of the day, a class 2 event over 1400m, De Melo was on another rank outsider, the Ricky Yiu-trained eight-year-old gelding Prime Minister, and he was drawn a tricky six out of ten. He came from last with a strong run and only just failed to make the frame, finishing fifth.  
It was a good start on the racing mad island, because he earned a cheque in all three of the races.
His astute riding hopefully caught the eye of trainers and owners and will stand him in good stead as he builds his reputation.
Hewitson had no fewer than nine rides in the ten race meeting.
He is in demand having reached the 50-winner mark last season.
However, he went home winnerless, although he did have two seconds, a third and a fifth.
Luke Ferraris surprisingly only had three rides, considering he had 35 wins last season, and he scored a third and a fifth.
Another South African ex-patriot, 13-times Hong Kong Champion jockey and now trainer Douglas Whyte, had a winner at the meeting.
The perennial Hong Kong champion jockey Zac Purton wasted no time in taking the lead this season with a treble. Hugh Bowman scored a double so is his nearest challenger so far.
The highlight of the meeting was the reappearance of Lucky Sweynesse, the Hong Kong Champion Sprinter who was ranked joint fifth best horse in the world in the latest Longines World’s best racehorse rankings together with Hong Kong Horse Of The Year Golden Sixty.
However, he could only manage second in the 1200m class 1 event as the lightweight Victor The Winner, to whom he gave 20 pounds, stayed on strongly under South African Jockeys Academy graduate Karis Teetan.
The latter will be one of the main challengers to Purton this season, but that was the Mauritian’s only winner at the opening meeting.