By Jennie Rees for Ellis Park Publicity
HENDERSON, Ky. (Sunday, July 30, 2017) — You couldn’t hardly find a more juxtaposed racetrack from the two in skyscaper-crammed Hong Kong (population 7.3 million and with the world’s largest betting pools) than Ellis Park, with its soybeans and now also corn and pumpkins in its infield.
But the track affectionately called the Pea Patch is where Hong Kong-based jockey Keith Yeung had his first American mount — and win — Sunday, guiding favored Flying Tipat to neck victory amid a swarm to the wire of the $42,000 turf allowance feature. Young, 29, also finished third in his second mount, aboard Iconic in a maiden race. Both horses are trained by Dale Romans.
Yeung has won races in Hong Kong, Macau and Australia but had never even visited the United States until he flew into Louisville via Chicago a week after the Hong Kong season ended July 16. He’s scheduled to be here two more weeks, working horses at Churchill Downs for Romans and riding some at Ellis Park.
“It was exciting,” he said, adding in reference to Romans’ partner Tammy Fox, “I said to Tammy in the parade ring, it feels like the first time I was on a racehorse in Australia. I was so excited, my heart was pumping. I was really excited for this trip and getting on a horse in the race. Fortunately I won the race — and nothing better than this.”
Yeung’s tie to America is Fox’s brother Billy, who as a jockey rode in Hong Kong, including for one of the trainers for which Yeung now works. Yeung said he tried to visit America a couple of years ago but couldn’t get the proper visa in time.
The jockey said you can’t compare Ellis Park to Hong Kong’s two racecourses: the urban Happy Valley and Sha Tin, where all the horses are stabled in multiple-story barns — a necessity with land at such a premium. That’s quite the contrast to Ellis Park, with its surrounding farmland.
“Tammy told me this is a really country track,” Yeung said. “I like it here. I enjoy the atmosphere. It’s relaxing. Back home it’s more like a betting place; we enjoy racing but we’re more into the betting. But here they come with their family and children. Perfect!”
“He’s a world-class jockey — showing up at Ellis Park,” Romans, who visited Hong Kong in 2013, said by phone from Saratoga. “The takeaway is that Ellis Park is getting bigger and bigger on the world stage. Everything about Ellis is on a major upswing.… Happy Valley is right in the center of downtown, like being in Times Square. And Ellis Park is in the center of a cornfield. It just goes to show that horse racing is popular no matter where you go.”
Flying Tipat, the 2-1 favorite owned by Louisville businessman Frank Jones, covered 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:43.09, the 5-year-old Tapit mare’s final sixteenth clipping six seconds to edge Pour Girl and jockey Sophie Doyle by a neck, with Deedeezee and Assembly losing by a total of a half-length.
“She always shows speed and she’s an honest horse, giving it her best,” Yeung said of Flying Tipat. “We’re happy she won this race. At the 800 meters when the leaders stopped, I got a beautiful run behind them and was lucky enough to get there at the finish line.”
It was Flying Tipat’s third win in 25 starts, with three seconds and four thirds. “She’s not an easy horse to ride,” Romans said. “I thought he did a good job.”
Yeung is scheduled to ride at Ellis Friday and Saturday for Romans.
“I think I’ve been staying home too long,” he said. “I decided it was time for me to go and look around the world and see if I can improve myself.”
Yeung won the $42,000 allowance feature before a large and festive crowd that included many children enjoyed a sun-kissed day with low humidity.
“It’s beautiful,” the jockey told Ellis Park owner Ron Geary. “Like before when I was riding in Australia, I was riding at track in Melbourne. They don’t have a crowd like this. Here, there was more fun, more joy than I was expecting. I was really surprised to see this.”