Playa Del Puente almost caused the biggest shock in BMW Hong Kong Derby history last month when at odds of 289/1 he forced Golden Sixty to prove there was substance to his brilliance.
But a valiant almost doesn’t get you the trophy.
“It was a bittersweet feeling to run second beaten so narrowly – a neck – in what some would say is the biggest race in Hong Kong. We got beat by Golden Sixty and he’s the champion horse of his age group,” jockey Blake Shinn said.
The Australian received plaudits for his ride on the Irish import, which was both gusty and astute. Last at the Derby half-way point, behind a slack tempo, Shinn rounded the field and kicked three lengths clear at the top of the home straight – he was pegged two strides short.
“I’m still proud of the horse’s achievement and proud of my achievement,” he said.
That was last month though and now Shinn is hoping for more than commiserating admiration as his reward from Sunday’s (26 April) HK$25 million Group 1 FWD QEII Cup. Playa Del Puente will take his place in the 2000m feature against Hong Kong’s best in the division, the triple Group 1 winners Exultant and Time Warp, and the 2019 Hong Kong Derby winner Furore.
“I think he’s got a big race in him,” Shinn said. “Whether he can do it in this race against the seasoned horses, time will tell, but we’ll give it our best shot.”
“Time Warp is the obvious leader, he’s one of three Tony Cruz runners in the field and there are only seven runners. Tactics in small fields always play a role and I’m mindful of that especially given my horse and how I feel he needs to be ridden – he’s not a sit and sprint horse, he’s quite dour.
“His strengths are his staying ability, so the quicker they go, the better. It’s just a matter of when the barriers open assessing how quickly they go and how my horse is travelling according to the pace.”
Trainer Danny Shum agrees “it was a surprise” last time but is hoping the gelding can fly the flag for this year’s Hong Kong Derby as the only four-year-old in the small field. The Huang Kai Wen-owned bay won three races on the Dundalk Polytrack when trained by Michael Halford in Ireland and has an easy Class 2 1650m win to his credit from eight Hong Kong starts.
“He’s a northern hemisphere horse so while I don’t think he’s improved since his last run, I do think next season he will be stronger, he’ll be more acclimatised and he could be better,” Shum said.
“I think on Sunday there’ll be a reasonable pace and if we are patient, we’ll be ok. I think if he can race comfortably, he will finish off well.”
Shinn, who has a solid 10 wins and an eye-catching 38 seconds on the board so far in his first full Hong Kong season, partnered Playa Del Puente in a barrier trial last week. That was on the dirt over 1200m and he ran home 13 lengths behind the talented rising star Wellington.
“I was pleased with how he felt but I thought he would have gone a little better,” Shinn revealed. “But some horses can trial indifferently on the dirt, so I’m not too perturbed by that. The main thing was that he’s in good condition and he’s 100 percent sound. His mind is great and when you add all those things up, he’s in good order.”
FWD Champions Day features three Group 1 races at Sha Tin, the HK$25 million FWD QEII Cup, the HK$20 million FWD Champions Mile and the HK$18 million Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m).