By Leo Schlink\r\n \r\nPierre Ng’s inexorable rise continued at Sha Tin on Monday (1 January) when Taj Dragon provided the young trainer with his first black type triumph with comprehensive victory in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).\r\n \r\nHanding Andrea Atzeni his most important win in Hong Kong, Taj Dragon (116lb) swept to a two-length margin over 2022 winner Healthy Happy (117lb) and Beauty Joy (123lb) as Ng posted his 40th winner of the term to boost hopes of clinching the trainers’ championship in only his second season.\r\n \r\n“It’s a dream come true,” Ng, 40, said. “I think the whole stable was thinking we could only get prize money against some of these big horses, so the fact we won will mean we’re happier at the dinner tomorrow night.\r\n \r\n“I didn’t think he could beat the good ones. Before Andrea mounted up, we were just hopeful he could get top three, but today he really impressed a lot of people.”\r\n \r\nNg is uncertain of where to head to next with lightly-framed Taj Dragon, who boasts five wins from 13 starts in Hong Kong after winning three races in Great Britain as Taj Alriyadh.\r\n \r\n“We will see how many ratings points he gets put up. Obviously, he’s not a big horse to carry a heavy weight, so we will have to see. It’s a very big step if we do run him in a Group 1, we will have to see, but he hasn’t let us down from day one.”\r\n \r\nLeading the championship by 16 wins from Danny Shum (24), Ng said: “This season we got a lot better horses and hopefully we're just gradually preparing them to be higher-class horses. I’ve got a feeling we have more to come.”\r\n \r\nAtzeni, a Classics-winning rider in Europe, snared his most important Hong Kong success.\r\n \r\n“What a horse. He’s a young horse, up-and-coming. I thought he would run well but I just wasn’t sure at the moment if he could beat the big guns, but he obviously is,” the Sardinian said.\r\n \r\n“It’s nice to get a nice winner on the first day of the year and a nice winner, actually and things are going great.”\r\n \r\nOn an afternoon of breakthroughs, Zac Purton notched his 50th win of the season with a treble with victories aboard Storm Rider, Fire Ball and Endeared to lead the 2023/24 jockeys’ championship by 17 from Karis Teetan (33), while James McDonald ended his five-week stint with a three-timer.\r\n \r\n“It’s (50 wins) another good number to get to, the season is starting to go a little bit better now,” Purton, a six-time Hong Kong champion, said after reaching the milestone for the 14th consecutive season. “It’s starting to tick over, which is good.”\r\n \r\nMcDonald matched Purton’s haul with wins on Wunderbar, CP Brave and Global Harmony.\r\n \r\nDavid Hayes celebrated a quality double with the victories of Storm Rider and Global Harmony, who charged from last under McDonald to post a soft win in the first section of the Class 3 Chinese Banyan Handicap (1400m).\r\n \r\nHayes believes Storm Rider will prove to be a progressive horse after the three-year-old’s emphatic win under Purton in the second section of the Class 4 Flame Tree Handicap (1200m).\r\n \r\n“I think he’s going to have a really good future. His first run was excellent, and he’s improved a lot since then,” Hayes said. “He’s still learning on the job. Zac had to wake him up a little bit but it was excellent.”\r\n \r\nPurton added to his haul when Dennis Yip’s Fire Ball narrowly triumphed in the Class 5 Willow Handicap (1400m) before making it a treble with John Size’s Endeared in the first section of the Class 4 Poplar Handicap (1400m).\r\n \r\nWunderbar, who was the first winner of McDonald’s five-week stint, gave the Kiwi a departing victory in the Class 3 Cherry Handicap (1200m), leaving the New Zealander with 15 wins for the stint.\r\n \r\nBenno Yung and apprentice Ellis Wong combined to snare the first race of the New Year – the first section of the Class 4 Flame Tree Handicap (1200m) – with Eighty Light Years before Yung bookended the meeting with Fun Together, who made it three wins in a row by landing the second section of the Class 3 Chinese Banyan Handicap (1400m) under Jerry Chau.\r\n \r\nRicky Yiu-trained CP Brave (134lb) defied a steep weight rise to land the Class 3 Cotton Tree Handicap (1800m) under McDonald, posting successive wins for the first time in his career despite carrying 11lb more than he shouldered when victorious at his previous start on 10 December, while Hugh Bowman teamed with Manfred Man to clinch the second section of the Class 4 Poplar Handicap (1400m) with Dream Pursuer.\r\n \r\nHong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Thursday night (4 January).