Ping Hai Star blazed an unusual trail to a rather dominating victory in the March 18 BMW Hong Kong Derby (G1).
The Nom Du Jeu gelding prepped for the 2,000-meter (1 1/4-mile) fixture with three straight wins—all sprinting. And trainer John Size said he hadn't even considered the Derby for Ping Hai Star until the gelding ran his way into the field.
Given his chance, Ping Hai Star dictated terms to his rider, Ryan Moore. Away last, which was not according to script, he held the anchor spot through the short run to the first turn on the Sha Tin Racecourse turf, then remained there all the way down the backstretch and through the stretch turn.
As the field fanned out for the sprint to the wire, Hong Kong Classic Cup winner Singapore Sling (SAF) jumped to the lead. But Moore had Ping Hai Star moving best, well outside the leaders, and he shot home impressively, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Singapore Sling held second—an encouraging sign for the South African breeding industry, which is building a pipeline to Hong Kong.
Exultant was a fast-closing third, also showing promise.
The Derby is the premier race of the Hong Kong season for locals. It is the third and final leg of the Hong Kong Classic 4-year-old series, which started with the Hong Kong Classic Mile, won by Nothingilikemore and proceeded to the 1,800-meter (1 1/8-mile) Hong Kong Classic Cup.
Ping Hai Star did not follow that progression and had to show Size he belonged in the 2,000-meter finale.
"The last time he raced, I saw something I liked about him as far as a Derby prospect was concerned," Size said. "He came from the tail of the field, he settled quite nicely, he was very happy to reel off some quick sectionals at the end of the race. The only gamble was whether he was fit enough and had the stamina to run 2,000 (meters) with his inexperience."
Moore, who rode his first Hong Kong Derby winner, said he knew when he took the mount that he had a chance.
"He's just a high-quality horse with a very good turn of foot," Moore said. "When you get on him he's a big, solid, strong horse, very powerful underneath you. Someone pointed him out to me back in January, actually—said he's a good horse. He ran that trip no problem at all."
And, as Ping Hai Star dictated his strategic campaign to Size over the past few months, he gave tactical direction to Moore for the 2:01.18 of the Derby itself.
"It wasn't really the plan to be that far back at all," Moore said. "I just felt I'd ride him with lots of confidence. I believed before the race that he was the one horse that could have more class than anything else in the race, and I think that showed."
While the Derby may be overshadowed on the international scene by the five international group 1 events still to come before season's end, it has been a gateway to success in those races for the likes of Viva Pataca in 2006, Designs on Rome in 2014, and Werther in 2016.
Size did not indicate the path forward for Ping Hai Star, deferring to stable owner Zeng Sengli.
"We'll have a think about what he'll do," the trainer said. "I'll absorb what's happened and look to where he goes now."
The obvious prospect is the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1), also at 2,000 meters, which anchors a trio of group 1 races on the April 29 card at Sha Tin.
A crowd of 67,205 filled Sha Tin, and the 10-race card produced record Derby Day turnover of HK$1.626 billion (about US$207.3 million).