The big international group 1 races looming on the horizon are all well and good, but the March 19 BMW Hong Kong Derby is the one the locals crave—for the purse and for the bragging rights at stake in the 140th running of the race.
Rapper Dragon, already rated 114 on the local scale, will attempt to complete the first sweep of the 4-year-old Classic Series, a program that progresses in distance to Sunday's 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) race. If he's to accomplish that, however, he will have to overcome what Anthony Kennedy, the Hong Kong Jockey Club executive director of racing, labeled "one of the strongest Derby fields ever assembled."
A Street Boss gelding, Rapper Dragon finished seventh in his trial for the Derby last week, but trainer John Moore was not troubled.
"Rapper Dragon has never been a flashy trialler and again he just did what he had to do," the trainer said. "That was what we wanted and what we expected. There's still more to come."
Rapper Dragon won the first race in the series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile (G1), by an easy two lengths, and took the 1,800-meter (about 1 1/8-mile) Hong Kong Classic Cup (G1) by 1 1/2 lengths. In both cases, company was coming in the final 100 meters, with Rapper Dragon never being asked for his best effort.
Rapper Dragon is among six Derby contenders under Moore's care, including Eagle Way, a group 1 winner in Australia last year, and Helene Charisma, winner of the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (G1) at Chantilly in July going 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles).
Pakistan Star, purchased from the Hong Kong International Sale a year ago for HK$6 million (about US$773,000) remains a fan favorite, with a worldwide following as a result of his dramatic last-to-first victories earlier in the season. His green blinkers and white earmuffs are hard to miss.
Several other imports feature in the cast as well.
Limitless, then trained by Jamie Osborne and known as Defrocked, won the Britannia Stakes during last year's Royal Ascot meeting, defeating 27 rivals including Folkswood, who currently is racing with distinction in Dubai for Godolphin.
Gold Mount, then conditioned by Alan King, won the King George V Handicap at 2016 Royal Ascot.
Another British import, Booming Delight, named Out and About when he finished sixth in the Brittania after Limitless, has already won three races in Hong Kong. The Fastnet Rock gelding is a full brother to Rivet, winner of last fall's Racing Post Trophy (G1) in England. Ryan Moore will be in town to ride Booming Delight.
The Hong Kong Derby was first run in 1873. Past winners include subsequent group 1 winners Vengeance of Rain, Viva Pataca, Ambitious Dragon, Akeed Mofeed, Designs on Rome, and Werther. Floral Pegasus in 2007 and Sun Jewellery last year both won the Classic Cup and the Classic Mile but fell short in the Derby.
The prestige value of a Derby victory is so great that in the minds of local owners, it eclipses even the purse money for Sunday's race—HK$18 million, or about US$2.3 million.