The road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) is shortening with the Four-Year-Old Classic Series already underway and the big race less than two months away, and on Sunday (2 February) the picture should become clearer with six Derby entrants looking to strengthen their credentials in the Class 2 Azalea Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin.
New Zealand import Super Oasis (123lb), to be ridden by Joao Moreira, is among the mix of hopefuls, along with Enjoying (122lb), Columbus County (121lb), Butterfield (120lb), Savvy Nine (119lb) and Amazing Beats (117lb), but the Brazilian ace has it narrowed down to three leading candidates.
“I don’t think there’s much between Enjoying, Super Oasis and Columbus County; it seems like these three are the stand outs and this race will give us a very good guide toward the Hong Kong Derby,” he said.
Moreira will take the ride on the Frankie Lor-trained Super Oasis for the first time after guiding Columbus County to a slashing second last start behind Preciousship, who prior to that win got within a head of More Than This, runner-up to stablemate Golden Sixty in the HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Mile on Monday (27 Janaury).
“I was booked to ride Super Oasis before I rode Columbus County; obviously Columbus County ran really well the other day and he’s no doubt one of the leading chances in the race,” Moreira said.
The four-year-old gelding arrived in Hong Kong off the back of a third-place effort in the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick but his two major wins came in New Zealand at Group 2 level – the Auckland Guineas (1600m) followed by the Avondale Guineas (2100m).
Moreira has partnered Super Oasis in trackwork and in a recent dirt trial at Sha Tin, crossing the line in third.
“He’s been a little bit more forward than I was expecting, he’s still a little bit immature but that is expected at his age and with how many races he’s had,” he said.
“He’s drawn gate five, which is not too bad – he should have every chance from there, although there are a few other good horses in the race with strong chances like him so I need to be respectful to them,” he added.
The Rock ‘N’ Pop gelding steps out on a rating of 87 for his fourth start in Hong Kong, a mark that his handler is looking to increase.
“He looks like he’s improving every race and because his rating is 87 I think we need to get him to around 90 or even a little bit higher for the Derby. So that’s why I didn’t enter him for the Classic Mile, instead we opted for this Sunday’s Class 2 contest,” Lor said.
It will be a straight swap in Sunday’s nine-furlong test for two three-time champion jockeys as Moreira moves to Super Oasis from rival Columbus County, while Zac Purton, a two-time partner for Super Oasis earlier this term, slides across to Columbus County.
“We’re all shuffling rides all the time,” Purton said. “It was just a matter of finding the right horse but hopefully Columbus County puts his hand up. He looked as if he was strong on the line so I’m not worried about the extra distance.”
The Caspar Fownes-trained gelding has raced twice but suffered a setback after a fast-finishing fourth on his local debut, which resulted in a two-month break between runs.
“He cut his stifle in the gates on debut and it took a while for that issue to heal over but he’s come back alright and his last run was very pleasing so it’s all systems go moving forward,” Fownes said.
“Both of his runs have been very pleasing. He was obviously very unlucky last start he should have won but he needs to be coming out and winning – so he’s then a chance in the Derby.”
The handler is no stranger to Derby success, having won the feature in 2010 with Super Satin and he is hopeful the Redwood gelding can follow a similar path under Purton.
“Joao (Moreira) had a prior engagement but we’re lucky that Zac (Purton) was available so we snatched him up. We’ve come up with a good gate so hopefully the extra furlong will be to our advantage,” Fownes said.
John Moore goes into Sunday’s test with a three-pronged attack, led by Enjoying who is looking to better a fast-finishing third last start. Moore’s other chances include five-year-old Classic Beauty (119lb) and fellow Derby entrant Savvy Nine.
That fast-finishing effort of Enjoying caught the eye of Silvestre de Sousa, prompting the three-time British champion jockey to extend his licence to conclude on Sunday (2 February) in a bid to partner the Australian-bred gelding in the Classic Cup and Derby. The Brazilian’s licence was initially meant to expire on 29 January, 2020.
“Silvestre de Sousa staying on for the meeting this weekend means that he’s quite positive about the horses chances going forward to the Classic Cup and the Derby,” the handler said.
“He went out this morning; he looks very well in himself. De Sousa galloped him in company yesterday and the feedback was very positive so it’s all systems go.”
The grey clocked the final fastest 400m of the race despite hitting trouble in the straight, stopping the clock at 22.52s, and has since stepped out for a grass trial at Sha Tin, crossing the line first after settling at the rear.
“It was a very encouraging trial and when we add it up we’re right on target with respect to what we’re trying to do and get him to the Derby,” Moore said.
The Dundeel gelding raced seven times Down Under for four wins including a pair of Group 2’s, the Autumn Classic (1800m) at Caulfield and the Alister Clark Stakes (2040m) at Moonee Valley.