Chang just one win away from benchmark
Righteous Doctrine is trainer's 15th win of season
Righteous Doctrine's win at Sha Tin on Sunday meant a lot for trainer Michael Chang.
It took the Group 1-winning handler to 15 wins for the season and within touching distance of Hong Kong's "trainer performance benchmark".
The Hong Kong Jockey Club requires trainers on a single-site licence to achieve 16 wins or 14 wins plus at least HK$21 million (S$3.86 million) in prize money.
Failure to hit the mark incurs a "strike". Three strikes could take a trainer out.
With President's Choice finishing second in the final event, Chang raised the stable's purse money to HK$20.115 million.
There are still 16 race meetings in the season.
Chang achieved 40 wins for the 2012/13 season but has notched fewer than 20 wins in each term since.
Even so, he has never received a dreaded "strike" but had one or two close calls.
"Honestly, I never feel pressure. I know our team will always do a good job, so I have no complaints," he said.
"We're getting a few more newcomers soon but they've all been stuck because of the coronavirus."
Chang famously oversaw the career of Rich Tapestry, the only Hong Kong-trained horse to have won a Group 1 - or any race, for that matter - in North America, as well as notable scores in Dubai.
But the past few seasons have been lean.
Righteous Doctrine's rattling late run to snatch the Class 2 Hoi Ha Handicap over 1,800m added some sheen to a tough season with low-grade horses.
"He really made my day today - he was strong," Chang declared, after Karis Teetan urged the five-year-old to a neck verdict over the favourite Super Oasis, despite an interrupted run that had given the trainer a "nervous" moment.
"I told the jockey to relax him and make him finish - and he finished really strongly. I could see that he was coming home strongly from 200 metres out but, then suddenly, he got chopped up by the other horse," said Chang.
The French-bred has now won three races this term - all within his last four starts - and Chang believes there is more to come.
"I think he's improving still," said the handler. "He always runs well on the turf, even though his two previous wins were on the dirt.
"He finished third last time and I don't think he got a good run, so today, I wanted to put a stronger jockey on."
Righteous Doctrine's victory gave Teetan a double.
The Mauritian had earlier scored on the Tony Cruz-trained Casa De Forca.
The gelding had knocked on the door a few times this term and finally hammered his way through for a first win at start 19 in section one of the Class 4 Wong Ma Tei Handicap over 1,400m.
The return to winning form by Inner Flame has certainly delighted trainer Douglas Whyte, who is now looking ahead.
His chestnut charge, who gave jockey Joao Moreira the final leg of his treble to be on par with Zac Purton with 117 wins apiece, won his first three races before disappointing last time out.
Whyte expects to see Inner Flame continue on an upward trajectory.
"It bodes well," said the former 13-time Hong Kong champion jockey. "The most important and interesting view as a trainer is that I don't think I've got to the bottom yet or near the bottom yet.
"He's still doing it on raw ability and I'm just training his mind to keep intact - I haven't even attacked him yet. I think there will be a big improvement."