Collection began the Chai Wan Handicap by attempting to savage the horse next door, followed up by savaging all 12 rivals in the run home, and now those willing jaws have a vice-like grip on the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby in two weeks time.
Trainer John Moore was so impressed with the son of champion Peintre Celebre that he labeled the gelding as more impressive than Viva Pataca had been in the lead-up to the Derby of 2005, which he won in an afternoon stroll under Christophe Soumillon.
Moore had that I-told-you-so expression as Collection came from near the rear of the field, sliced through his rivals and then established a huge winning margin despite shouldering top weight of 132 pounds.
First prize for the Chai Wan Handicap was HK$798,000 plus a HK$700,000 first-win bonus from the Jockey Club, but Collection’s added haul was favoritism for the HK$16 million Derby, to be run at Sha Tin on March 22.
“I’m thrilled that he’s been able to come here today and show what he’s capable of,” Moore said after getting a full debrief from jockey Darren Beadman. “He’s shown a great turn of foot and proved to us he’s on the right track. He’s shown that he’s the rightful favorite for the Derby.”
Beadman was blown away by the authority of the win, which saw Collection post a 4 1/4 length margin over another Derby hopeful, Mr Medici.
“After that little incident at the start where he attempted to savage another horse, the rest of the race was a dream,” Beadman said.
“It’s great riding a horse like him that you just know has a real turn of acceleration. It gives you enormous confidence because you know the horse will get you out of any trouble. This horse has even surprised me today. He travelled very strongly but I never expected he would accelerate so quickly under 132 pounds-- he quickened like he was carrying around 120.”
Senior handicapper Nigel Gray said Collection had been his personal Derby selection before the four-year-old had even arrived in Hong Kong, based on his impressive British form.
“His form in England is very similar to Helene Mascot’s last year, and interesting both of them are by the same sire, Peintre Celebre,” Gray said, referring to Europe’s champion three-year-old of 1997. “It’s just nice to see him get here, acclimatize and really deliver the sort of form we knew him to be capable of.”
There were five Derby candidates engaged in the race and all classic dreams bar Team Moore’s were shredded.
“Our horse has run honestly but John’s horse has been far too good for us,” said Mr Medici’s trainer Peter Ho Leung.
With the more traditional Derby lead-ups, the Classic Mile and Derby Trial having featured close and competitive finishes, Collection’s dominance and brilliant change of gears makes him stand out from his contemporaries.
He may even start the shortest-priced Derby favorite of the new millennium, an honor that currently rests with Floral Pegasus who was nosed out of first prize by Vital King in 2006.
However, being favorite for the Derby is not bad news in broader terms, as 12 of the past 18 Derby winners have stated the public elect.
Collection’s attempt to savage Special Dragon shortly after the start saw stipendiary stewards place a warning on the gelding, meaning any repeat behavior could potentially see him barred pending a satisfactory barrier trial.