By David Morgan – HKJC
Waikuku fired a booming warning shot to his fellow BMW Hong Kong Derby aspirants with an impressive victory in the Class 2 Lion City Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin this afternoon (Saturday, 2 March).
“He has gone to another level,” jockey Joao Moreira said, “I can’t wait to ride him in the Derby.”
Trainer John Size’s charge has made big strides since going down by a nose on debut a couple of days before Christmas. Today’s success was his fourth in a row and it was achieved in the style of a horse destined to be a major player in the final leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series in two weeks’ time.
“He has quite surprised me and John Size, and people watching, with the rapid progress he has made,” Moreira said after the Irish import had scored by a length and a half in a time of 1m 46.74s.
“He was very nice and relaxed on the back of the field and the race suited him because they went a bit fast up front. He had to go around them all and he just left them all flat-footed the last 200 metres,” the Brazilian said.
Moreira eased Waikuku (133lb) back from gate 12, settling second last as Easy Go Easy Win (123lb) set the tempo. The Irish import shifted wide for progress on the turn but had the race in the bag long before he passed the leader approaching the 200m pole.
“That’s what you’re hoping for,” Size said. “In the 1400-metre races he’s been running time and the other day he ran a slow section mid-race, 24 (seconds) or something, so let’s go up in distance and see if he’s got the stamina to finish it off.
“He was always going (to the Derby) but that had to be part of his preparation otherwise he hadn’t had any practice at the tempo.”
Size also saddled Enrichment (124lb) – third behind runner-up Mongolian King (120lb) – and the trainer stated that the Australian import will go on to the Derby when Ryan Moore will take the ride.
“Enrichment, he’s run another dour race. He’s obviously going to appreciate the 2000 metres and he can race handily so that will help him a lot. I think they’ve both got chances of getting prize money.”
Neil Callan was in the plate this time though and the Irishman said: “The pace was nice and even, I had Enrichment out early enough in the straight and he just kept batting away. He just feels a little bit mentally immature; he’s a really nice staying type going forward for next season. The Derby? It looks like the winner’s going to be a tough one to beat but this horse has a future.”
With a two-meeting suspension followed by a Happy Valley blank mid-week, the prolific Moreira had not been up to the winner’s arch since 17 February. Perfect Pair rectified that situation to kick off a double for the rider: the So-trained gelding took the Class 4 Bukit Timah Handicap (1400m) by a neck.
So headed into today’s fixture with 16 wins on the board and seeking to ignite his season. He left with a brace after Chad Schofield made all on Team Spirit to win the second of the afternoon’s two trophy contests, the Class 3 Singapore Turf Club Trophy Handicap (1200m).
Frankie Lor arrived on 98 career wins and left with the century in his pocket after book-ending the card. Debutant Joyful Heart took the opener under Karis Teetan and Right Choice impressed with his fourth win from five starts in the finale.
That win gave jockey Silvestre de Sousa a brace, too, following his win on the Richard Gibson-trained Corre Rapido in race two.
E Star (125lb) ran well enough on debut to have started shorter than the 68/1 odds he returned after winning the day’s first silverware. Manfred Man’s charge kept on strongly to claim the Association of Hong Kong Racing Journalists Challenge Cup Handicap (1200m) by a neck under Umberto Rispoli.
Alexis Badel partnered the three-year-old to a career debut fifth last month but Rispoli was more than happy to step in with his weighing room colleague now back in France. The Italian had been pleased with the Ferlax gelding’s efforts in two recent gallops.
“I was just saying to Manfred, it was a very good run for the horse last time,” Rispoli said, “they slowed down on the corner that time and this horse’s mouth is a bit soft so Alexis couldn’t hold him up, he had to bring him out, he was three-wide on the bend and finished pretty well in the straight.
“He gave me a good feeling in the morning and I think once he goes 1400 metres, if he settles down in his mind, he’ll be much better, for sure. He’s got some gate speed but you can see then that he needs time to wind up; I wasn’t worried around the corner because I had cover three wide and that brought me where I wanted to be in the straight. He kept going.”
Prince Of Gems (133lb) started the 1.7 favourite on the back of a winning debut ahead of E Star last time. Zac Purton’s mount hit trouble at a vital juncture on this occasion, finishing sixth.
Dragon Dance must rate highly in Jack Wong’s affections these days: the rider notched his fifth win of the campaign when rating the Me Tsui-trained gelding sweetly on the front end. That ended a losing streak for the rider that went back to 7 November when he notched a win on none other than the reliable Dragon Dance.
Eddie Lai, at 45, is the old man of the jockeys’ room following Douglas Whyte’s retirement. The senior man has five wins on the board thanks to Phantom Falcon’s victory for trainer Peter Ho in race six, and that lifted the rider to a career Hong Kong total of 298.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 6 March