John Size offered words that should give some reassurance to Waikuku fans after the gelding drew widest of all in gate 14 at the Hong Kong Derby barrier draw at Sha Tin Racecourse this morning (Thursday, 14 March).
The gate was not the prime concern surrounding the HK$18 million contest’s top-rated horse, though. Curiosity was most intense around his wellbeing after it was revealed earlier this week that the Irish import had suffered a minor foot issue.
“It happened on Sunday morning,” the champion trainer said. “He had a sore foot and by the afternoon it seemed ok. He’s continued to make normal progress since then so I think he’ll be fine for the race. I think he can gallop on it.”
Despite the confidence from Size online bookmaker Ladbrokes has wound out the Waikuku to the second line of betting at $3.60.
Waikuku returned to fast work this morning for the first time since his scare – the gelding swam on Sunday and Size then kept him to the pool and trotting before allowing him to stride out this morning through a steady 800m in 58.6s (32.9, 25.7).
“It was normal,” he said of the talented bay’s work. “It was just a normal workout for him. There was nothing special or different about it, it was just the normal work that he would usually do.”
As for the draw, owner Jocelyn Siu stepped forward and selected the miniature BMW car that concealed number 14.
“It depends on how it plays out,” Size said. “It could be worse, it could be better, it just depends on the set-up of the race and how they run the race. I’ll look at it closely but he’s proven to be quite versatile. He began from the outside last start, very fast, and then went back in the field so he’s not a difficult horse to manoeuvre. We’ll just have to work around that.”
Joao Moreira had hoped for a spot about 10 berths inwards from the one he got but believes the way the protagonists have drawn will make for an enthralling race.
“It’s not the ideal gate but looking at the draw overall, it seems like the way the race might unfold will make it very interesting. I don’t have a particular set-up in mind yet of how we’ll do things. It could be an unusual Derby based on where the horses are in the draw,” he said.
Lor takes what he’s given
Trainer Frankie Lor has the next three horses in the ratings below Waikuku and two of those drew wide gates, too. Hong Kong Classic Mile victor Furore will start from gate 12 under Hugh Bowman, while the make-all Hong Kong Classic Cup scorer Mission Tycoon must break from 11. G1 Queensland Derby winner Dark Dream drew barrier eight.
“The horses’ form is good and you always need luck in the race. I can only produce the horse in top form for the race and then we need luck and we’ll see,” Lor said.
“I’ll talk to Hugh Bowman about Furore; Dark Dream maybe can travel midfield from that draw.
“Mission Tycoon should go in front and hopefully he can lead,” he continued. “If Ka Ying Star leads, my horse can be second or third, it’s no problem. But if Ka Ying Star doesn’t want to lead, Mission Tycoon can.”
Mission Tycoon out-sped Ka Ying Star to snag pole position in the Classic Cup. But that Tony Cruz-trained rival has drawn gate two, delighting his handler.
“The horse is in top form and I reckon I’ve got the best draw for him, he’s got the inside and I’m very happy with that,” Cruz said.
“The only concern is that the distance might be against him but we’ll see. What I’ve heard from his previous trainer, Andrew Balding, is that he thinks he’ll stay 2000 metres, no problem.”
Cruz’s Helene Leadingstar will have to overcome gate 13; Size also has Enrichment (gate 5), Red Warrior (9) and Mr So And So (4) in the 14-runner contest.
South American Group 1 winner Harmony Victory has drawn against the fence in gate one; Ho Ho Khan (10), Gold Chest (7), Tianchi Monster (6) and Sunny Speed (3) complete the line-up.