It should have happened 12 months earlier, but when opportunity knocked a second time there was only one result Christophe Soumillon would accept in the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile with his chance pick-up ride, Thumbs Up.
The Belgian superstar stormed back into Hong Kong racing by claiming his second group I of the season Jan. 17 after the completion of a careless riding suspension, setting himself up perfectly for another Derby to add to the one he claimed with Viva Pataca three years ago.
Trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing spoke for many, both fans and professionals, as he paid tribute to the jockey in the aftermath of a dramatic finish in which Soumillon simply overpowered opponents in a last-to-first charge through the field on this New Zealand-bred son of Shinko King.
“I am delighted to win this race of course, but what an incredible jockey,” an awestruck Shum said. “He has come from last, he’s let others go when they wanted to go early, he’s threaded his way through the field and was so strong at the finish.”
Soumillon, who had not ridden since winning the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) on Good Ba Ba on Dec. 14, was elated for the victory and not simply because this was an HK$8 million group one race.
“Of course, I’m happy to win this race today, I love winning group one races, but just as important to me is that it looks like I found my Derby horse,” Soumillon said. “There were a lot of jockeys wanting to be close to the pace so I just sat back and got my horse relaxed and breathing nicely. Approaching the turn, I decided to wait and to through the field and found myself following Douglas (Whyte) on the favorite and from there, everything worked our perfectly.
“I wasn’t sure he would get there, but the last 50 meters he was very strong.”
Last season, Soumillon rode Classic Mile hero Helene Mascot in a barrier trial but declined the Classic Mile ride to handle outsider Visionario, who not only did not win that race but remains a Hong Kong maiden one year later.
Olivier Doleuze was all set to claim victory on the John Size-trained second stringer More Bountiful and felt his mount was giving everything.
“I had a good run, and I came out, perhaps a little early but my horse was traveling very comfortably,” Doleuze recalled. “When I asked him for more, he gave more, and he kept on very well. No complaints, we have done everything except get the photo.
“I would love to stay on him for the Derby Trial and the Derby, I have no doubt he’ll be even better at those extra distances, no doubt at all.”
It was a sentiment that was matched by Shum -- who was winning the Classic Mile for a second time, following Scintillation in 2005 -- and Soumillon.
“I really didn’t think Thumbs Up could win this race today,” Shum confessed. “I thought he would run well, but believed he would be much better suited in the Derby Trial and the Derby.”
John Moore was satisfied with the honest third placing from Kings Falcon, who was beaten a short head and a half length.
“Kings Falcon will still head on toward the Derby,” Moore said. “We’ll have to ride him even a bit quieter next time and try to get him to stay.”
Douglas Whyte had no excuses to offer for beaten favorite Unique Jewellery, who finished ninth but only three lengths from the winner.
“All I can say is disappointing,” Whyte said. “I had no complaints about where I was and the horse relaxed nicely for me, but he just ran flat.”
There was plenty of optimism from connections of horses on the heels of the top three, with positive reviews for Fleet Command (4th), Roma Pegasus (5th) and Vigour Delight (6th).
Legend of Colour (Zac Purton) finished eighth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths after being pushed widest on the home turn and being unbalanced in a bumping match with Romping (Brett Doyle).