Graham Cunningham brings us the latest from the Hong Kong racing scene and ponders where now for Derby hero Golden Sixty.
After a Sunday of sunshine and glory comes the cold midweek analysis.
HK racing made headlines the world over with Golden Sixty’s thrilling Hong Kong Derby success on Sunday and his story – along with that of upwardly mobile rider Vincent Ho – clearly still has distance left to run.
But Golden Sixty now has to leave the relative comfort of the Four-Year-Old division and go in against the heavy hitters among the older horse brigade. That could mean taking on champion middle distance stayer Exultant in the QEII Cup on Champions Day (April 26th) or a Champions Mile battle with Beauty Generation and Waikuku on the same day that would look a lot like the race of the season.
But the HK handicappers didn’t have Golden Sixty improving on his rating of 112 in the Derby. He needs to hit well into the 120’s to match any of the established older stars and history provides a handy guide as to the tasks ahead.
All 20 Derby winners since the race was moved to 2000m have contested either the Champions Mile or the QEII Cup in the same season. Only four followed up – namely QEII winners Vengeance Of Rain, Ambitious Dragon, Designs On Rome and Werther – and Golden Sixty needs to be as good as that exceptional quartet if he’s to extend his impressive winning streak and secure HK Horse of the Year status.
One thing that has crept under the radar in recent weeks is the way in which champion jockey Zac Purton has gradually reeled in what was beginning to look like a dangerous lead for Joao Moreira.
The Aussie has outscored the Brazilian by 21-13 over the last ten fixtures – reducing the deficit to just one as the old rivals battle for the title – and both riders will be looking for more success from a couple of Sunday’s Sha Tin scorers.
Moreira sparked a double with the powerful and progressive Ping Hai Bravo for John Size and completed it with a smooth Class 2 success aboard Seattle Choice, who might well have been a Derby contender had his striking progress for Tony Millard begun a little earlier.
But Alexis Badel’s return to France means Purton has inherited a very exciting prospect in Richard Gibson’s Wellington, who made it three out of three with a commanding Class 3 success.
The fact that Wellington clocked 22.14s and 22.04s for his middle and final sectionals over Sha Tin’s 1200m is notable in itself. But the fact that he could peel off that quickfire final split while barely out of second gear suggests that he must be a very bright prospect indeed.
The latest round of the tussle between the big two takes place at Happy Valley on Wednesday with Moreira looking forward to a bold bid from the progressive Dancing Fighter in the Kong Sin Wan Handicap at 1.45.
The four-year-old hasn’t been seen since scoring at the Valley in early December and trainer Caspar Fownes is concerned that the combination of top weight and stall 9 could make life tricky.
But Moreira was impressed with Dancing Fighter’s recent trial win and is in no doubt that his new mark of 77 is still very workable.
“I was extremely happy with the trial and I think he’s ready to go to the races,” he said. “ I don’t think he’s 100 percent fit but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he can win, because he’s not even close to what he’s going to get up to in the ratings. I do think he’s a good horse and he’s up and coming.”
Fownes and Moreira team up again in the finale at 2.50 and this time both trainer and rider are in accord about the chances of the progressive Green Reign.
The Lope de Vega gelding was drawn 12 of 12 when chasing home strong improver This Is Class over course and distance on his latest start and looks much better berthed in 3 this time.
“He seems to be improving and he’s been very consistent without winning so hopefully he gets his chance this time,” said Fownes.
Moreira feels the high draw forced his hand tactically three weeks ago but has a contrasting gameplan in mind this time around. “I had to drag him back, so the good gate will give us options to be more forward if we want,” he said. “He’s a very nice horse and it won’t be long before he wins his race. It looks like he’s there – ready to win.”