Singapore Sling cemented his candidacy for next month’s BMW Hong Kong Derby with an upset success in the HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) at Sha Tin racecourse this afternoon, Sunday, 18 February.
The victory was Chad Schofield’s biggest in Hong Kong and the rider ended a memorable Chinese New Year race day with a four-timer that also featured the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m) on Dundonnell.
“It’s a fantastic day,” Schofield, 24, said. “To win the two feature races is a privilege. It was my birthday a couple of days ago so it was the ideal present.”
Singapore Sling returned at 9/1 in a Hong Kong Classic Cup market dominated by Nothingilikemore, the only horse ahead of the South African import in last month’s Hong Kong Classic Mile. But the 1.8 jolly failed to sparkle this time, running home a disappointing fourth behind the Tony Millard-trained bay.
There was nothing sub-par about Singapore Sling. Millard’s latest stable star looked a picture pre-race and delivered a performance to match.
“When I asked for the supreme effort, he responded nicely and he held that all the way to the line, so it was a very strong win,” Schofield said.
The Golden Age set a solid tempo on the front end under Matthew Chadwick as Schofield settled Singapore Sling one spot back, stalking easily along the inside rail.
“I just put my hands on the horse’s neck and let him tell me where he wanted to be and that was nice and close in the box seat. I was worried that perhaps I was too close because it was a strong pace throughout,” Schofield said.
“With Grand Chancellor on my outside, I was able to edge out into the clear nice and early, and I sat as long as I could.”
Singapore Sling switched three wide off the home turn, quickened past the fading Ruthven and locked onto The Golden Age, passing that rival with 150m to go.
“It really surprised me, the kick The Golden Age gave – he kicked strongly and maintained the momentum he’d built up. My bloke ran a really strong race though. He felt better today than he did at the mile; he was as strong at the line as he was at any other point in the race,” Schofield said after his mount had clocked 1m 46.99s.
That ranks as the second fastest Classic Cup at the current distance, just one hundredth of a second off Rapper Dragon’s 2017 time.
Exultant chased determinedly under Zac Purton to put down his own Derby marker but had to settle for second, a length and a half behind the winner.
It was a second Hong Kong Classic Cup success for Millard. The handler took the prize in 2011 with Ambitious Dragon, a horse that went on to win the Derby and subsequently proved his merit as one of Hong Kong’s all-time greats.
“Ambitious Dragon was a true champion and this horse is still building up to be talked of in the same voice – he has to still do it. There was nothing wrong with his win today, though,” Millard said.
“After the mile, Beverly (Millard) was of the opinion that he’d got a little bit of spring in his stride and he has come on from that. We just need to keep him like this all the way through. It was a hard fought win and I’m certainly happy that he finished off very strongly.”
Schofield has no concerns about another step up in distance in the final leg of the three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series on 18 March, the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
“The 2000 metres in the Derby will be no problem,” Schofield said. “He’s just on the right path, he’s getting better all the time, he’s relaxing, and mentally and physically I’m very happy with him. He’s a lovely horse to have heading into the Derby.”
The Golden Age, stewed in a lather of sweat, hung on for third as Nothingilikemore ran on bravely for fourth. The four-year-old high-weight started slowly and lost his off-fore shoe on the back straight as he failed to reproduce his peak form.
“Amazing run under the circumstances,” jockey Joao Moreira said. “At the start, Nothingilikemore turned his head sideways. By doing so, he missed the start and gave a head start to the others. To come home to finish fourth, I think that was an amazing achievement so I was very happy with the run itself.”
Chadwick was pleased with The Golden Age’s effort as he too looks ahead to the Derby in four weeks’ time.
“He ran an awesome race,” the rider said. “He got himself a bit worked up before the race, sweating a bit, so hopefully he learns from it and the extra 200m shouldn’t be a problem.”
Turnover for the day was HK$1.738 billion, the second highest ever recorded for the Chinese New Year race day, down marginally on last year’s record.
A crowd of almost 90,000 enjoyed the 11-race action that saw trainer Francis Lui kick off the Year of the Dog with a brace in the first two races.
Schofield’s four-timer also included the Richard Gibson-trained Wishful Thinker in race 10 and the Millard-trained debutant Silver Fig in race four.