Jockey Derek Leung sees Thursday night’s (22 February) District One Mediterranean (1600m, dirt) at Meydan as not only a chance for Classic Emperor to qualify for the G2 Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night, but also as an opportunity to continue his own stellar season by gaining a ride at the world’s richest race meeting.
Leung has four mounts at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (21 February), but will depart for Dubai immediately after the race meeting.
“Classic Emperor and I are in the same position,” Leung said. “If we both perform well, hopefully then it will be easier for us both to be there on Dubai World Cup night. From everything I saw before I left Hong Kong, and everything that I’ve heard since he’s been here, he should run well on Thursday night.”
It has been a breakout season for Hong Kong Apprentice Jockeys’ School graduate Leung, winner of the Tony Cruz Award last season for the leading homegrown rider. He currently sits fifth in the jockeys’ championship with 25 wins, three of which have come aboard the John Moore-trained Beauty Generation. That same galloper provided the 29-year-old with his first Group 1 victory in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile in December.
This will be Leung’s first chance to ride a Hong Kong horse on the world stage, as well as his first time to Dubai. However, the rider is confident in his ability ahead of Thursday’s race.
“This might be my first time to Meydan but I have ridden in a number of places all around the world,” Leung said. “Every year, at the end of the season, I’d ride overseas during the summer. I’ve ridden in England, France, Australia and Singapore. I’ve also been back to New Zealand, too, where I was based before I came to Hong Kong – I rode in the New Zealand Derby last year. So I have travelled overseas to ride quite a few times, I’ve had some great experience so I’m not worried – I’m excited.
“It is my first time to ride a Hong Kong horse overseas though and I am very honoured to represent Hong Kong. I’m grateful to the owner and the trainer for giving me this great opportunity. I just want to prove myself – I know I am a very good jockey, and so I want to take this chance to show people outside Hong Kong who I am. I’ll be doing plenty of study and homework and hopefully we can show our best.”
Leung has worked closely with the Chris So-trained Classic Emperor since guiding the six-year-old to a Class 3 win over 1400m on turf in June last year. However, circumstances have meant that Leung has not been aboard on two standout occasions this season – the two times that Classic Emperor has won on dirt. On both occasions, Keith Yeung took the ride.
“Derek was meant to ride him in his first dirt race, but he already committed to one of David Hall’s horses so Keith took the ride,” So said. “Then Derek was booked for his last run but he was suspended on that day. In the end, I made the call and it was a tough one, both of them are great riders, but Derek has done a lot of the work with Classic Emperor and he intended to ride last time so he got the call-up.
“Derek is one of the best riders in Hong Kong, he’s riding so confidently currently and I’m very happy to have him aboard here.”
Classic Emperor completed his preparations for Thursday night’s race with an easy canter on the Meydan dirt on Wednesday morning (21 February), under the watchful eye of So. The galloper had his last major piece of work on Monday morning (19 February).
“He did most of his work when he was in Hong Kong so he hasn’t needed much here, just enough to tune him up,” So said. “I’m very happy with barrier two, it’s a one-turn mile here instead of two turns like Sha Tin so the gate isn’t as important on paper but it means that he should be able to jump out somewhere handy and not have to do too much work, hopefully.”
The District One Mediterranean, an eight-horse handicap in which Classic Emperor carries 59.5kg, is the last of six Meydan races that will be simulcast for betting into Hong Kong. It will jump at 1.25am Hong Kong time, with the opener, the G2 Meydan Sprint (1000m, turf), to begin the card at 10.30pm Hong Kong time.