Take care when finding heroes as times can tell a different tale

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 1997, 12:00am

Every racing fan wants to herald a new hero and there were plenty at Sha Tin on Sunday who believe they witnessed a true star winning the 1997 Hong Kong Derby.

And why not? Oriental Express ran out a comfortable 11/4-length winner over Victory Star (76) and looked every inch a quality animal.

This $1.6 million British import certainly has the right team behind him, being owned by Jockey Club steward Larry Yung Chi-kin (of Mr Vitality fame), trained by the masterful Ivan Allan and with four-time champion jockey Basil Marcus on board. With just two runs (and two wins) under his belt in the territory, the potential of this son of Green Desert is undeniable, but is it still just potential or did Sunday's win prove anything more about his chances of fulfilling connections ambitions of International Day glory? That may be an academic question for those willing to sit back and simply enjoy watching how his career develops, but any intelligent and value conscious punter has to look at the facts behind the potential and media hype.

And from an unemotive time perspective the answer is a simple no.

On a surface riding closer to firm than the official 'good to firm', Oriental Express clocked a winning time of one minute and 47.6 seconds, which equates to a solid but hardly outstanding Topseed rating of 78.

Remember, Ivan Allan's charge had clocked a time figure of 84 when making his winning debut in the territory, so the bare result from the weekend doesn't prove any more about his ability than we already knew. Indeed, Oriental Express clocked a Topspeed equivalent of 93 when trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam in England last year.

His two Hong Kong runs simply tell us he is transferring his European form to the unique atmosphere of racing in the territory, but as yet he has not improved on his efforts over there. Those who believe his first past the post (subsequently disqualified and placed third) in the Group Two Prix Eugene Adam at Saint-Cloud represents solid international Group-winning form should think again.

In common with most French pattern races, it was a slowly-run affair and he actually clocked his highest speed rating when second in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. None of this should be taken as evidence that Oriental Express won't prove up to International glory.

But at the moment, future predictions are based on perceived potential, not proven ability and that is the important thing for any intelligent punter to remember.