It was a tale of contrasting fortunes for John Moore’s BMW Hong Kong Derby aspirants at Sha Tin on Saturday (3 March) as Ruthven stamped his claims for the HK$18 million feature with a tough win in the Class 2 Snipe Handicap (1800m).
Last year’s Queensland Derby winner Ruthven (128lb) was one of two Group 1 winners for Moore in the Snipe Handicap, which loomed as a Derby tune-up with seven four-year-olds among the entrants.
The trainer also saddled up 2016 Racing Post Trophy winner Rivet, but the Fastnet Rock colt was scratched at the gates and will face a stalls test before he is able to take his place in the 2000m feature.
“It’s the ups and downs of racing, a mixed result indeed!” Moore said. “Rivet has always had some poor manners in the gates. Today, he got the near hind leg right over the division between the gates which results in immediate scratching. He trotted up OK, but he will need to go through the gates again. I think he would benefit from gelding eventually, but back to the drawing board with him – he will definitely be a Derby starter if all goes well with the stalls test.”
Once the gates opened, though, Moore’s focus was on Ruthven. The Domesday colt settled third on the rails behind a moderate tempo set by Lucky Girl, with first-time rider Zac Purton allowing him to settle in a perfect trailing position.
Entering the straight, Ruthven was quickly out into clear air and was hard-ridden by Purton to chase the honest Sergeant Titanium (127lb), who had assumed the lead. Nevertheless, it took nearly every centimetre of the 430m straight to wear down the front-runner, scoring by a head. David Ferraris-trained Patriot Hero (119lb), another Derby entrant, closed nicely into third.
“He did what we hoped today – we hoped to get a bit more fitness out of him, more mileage into his legs and I’m pleased, even though he only just won,” Moore said.
“The further he goes, the better, so he will appreciate the 2000m of the Derby and he’s another good chance for us.
“Still, he’s another one who will appreciate gelding. He’s still a little thick in the wind so getting a bit of weight off will help him.”
Ruthven will carry the colours of owner Albert Hung, who last year took Derby glory with Rapper Dragon. Hung’s son Kevin will also be hoping to have his first runner in the classic with the Moore-trained Rocketeer.
“Rocketeer will trial Tuesday and I hope he’ll complete our Derby line-up this year,” Moore said. “I have no fixed jockeys as yet.”
Size contemplates Derby for Ping Hai Star
One horse who remains a query for the Derby is Ping Hai Star. The John Size-trained galloper scored his third straight win in the Class 2 Flycatcher Handicap (1400m), scoring by two and a quarter lengths.
Until now, Size had been ambivalent about a Derby bid with Ping Hai Star; despite the fact he is a son of Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) winner Nom Du Jeu, he felt that he lacked the race sense to step up to 2000m. However, the handler now admits that he may have no other option than to run him in the Derby.
“I don’t really want to step him up but he might have a rating now where we have to consider it,” the nine-time Champion Trainer said.
“He travelled much more kindly today. I never make a decision on raceday but it is something we will think about.”
Rider Joao Moreira said he wouldn’t discourage Size from running Ping Hai Star (126lb) in the Derby, saying he relaxed perfectly behind an even tempo.
“He’s got a very nice horse here,” Moreira said.
“I think there’s a very high chance of him switching off if he did go to 2000m, but there is a doubt there because he has pulled in the past. I think that is in the back of John’s mind, but if he races the same as he did today, he’s going to be sweet over longer.
“Honestly, if John decides to run him in the Derby, he’s going to be a very strong chance. He’s all quality.”
The selected runners for the BMW Hong Kong Derby are announced on Wednesday (7 March).
Size and Moreira also won with second-starter Raging Storm (128lb). The three-year-old had created a big impression on debut, flying home from last after racing greenly to finish fourth, and he backed up that effort with a front-running victory in the Class 4 Lusitano Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).
“He didn’t do everything right, he’s still a bit new, but it was such a big improvement from what he showed at his first start,” Moreira said.
“The wide gate was everything today – he had plenty of time to get across. He had showed that sort of speed in his trials, so it was good to see it on raceday. He’s got a lot to learn but there’s more to come from him.”
Singapore connection scores with Contentment half-brother
Moreira took riding honours with a four-timer. In addition to the two Size hotpots, he also scored aboard the Chris So-trained Bravo Watchman (129lb) in the Class 3 Tern Handicap (1000m), while he renewed an old association when winning the Class 4 Albatross Handicap (1000m) on Complacency (126lb) for trainer Michael Freedman.
During his Singapore career, Moreira rode 71 winners for Freedman, most notably with top-class galloper Super Easy. However, Complacency was their first Hong Kong winner together.
“I rode a lot of winners for him in Singapore, but I haven’t had the chance to ride too many here,” Moreira said.
“I’m convinced that in the second half of the season, he’s going to have very good results. I hope and believe that this is the first of many wins for us together.”
Complacency, a Charge Forward half-brother to the recently-retired Group 1 Champions Mile winner Contentment, impressed by winning from the rear down the centre of the straight course.
“It was definitely a good effort and I think he’ll come on a lot for that,” Moreira said of the three-year-old.
“He didn’t jump very well and so he was a long way back and didn’t win by very much, but I think he would have won easier if he had a better position and hopefully it allows him to progress slowly.”