Keeping track of Derby hopefuls
By LAWRENCE WADEY
DERBY horses past and present dominated trackwork at Sha Tin yesterday with Patrick Biancone's duo of Quicken Away and Charming Talker underlining their strength as Deerfield also impressed.
Quicken Away, the former dual Horse Of The Year, has been off the course since running dismally behind Concert King under the effects of the then emergent equine 'flu epidemic.
He has been brought slowly back to form by Biancone, winning a recent barrier trial and yesterday hitting the line hard in an impressive one minute 13.8 seconds in the morning's best time.
The ageing sprinter, whose former grey frame is now near white from the passing of time, underlined that he will take plenty of beating in his intended comeback race on Derby Day (March 7).
Interestingly, he may clash with the David Hill-trained champion River Verdon in that 1,200-metre event which both are using en route to hoped-for International Bowl and Cup glory.
Last season, Hill used a similar 1,200-metre dash as part of River Verdon's build-up to Gold Cup glory.
Most observers thought River Verdon would struggle to run a place in that sprint but class told as arguably the greatest horse Hongkong has seen only just failed to win.
Yesterday, River Verdon was not asked to run time by Hill or stable jockey Basil Marcus. He went solidly to the line and his preparation looks to be progressing slowly but surely as the International events on April 18 creep ever nearer.
Biancone's Derby hope Charming Talker was asked to do more work than any horse yesterday morning as the great French trainer begins to crack the whip on the four-year-old he has earmarked for the Blue Riband event for the last 18 months.
Charming Talker put in a most promising run when fourth to Happy Guy in the Derby Trial. He was staying on the best of any of the potential Derby candidates in the final 200 metres of this mile contest and can be relied upon to be doing all his work at the finish of the 1,800-metre Derby.
He is the dark horse in the Derby as only now is he really being asked to show his full potential.
Yesterday, Biancone instructed stable jockey Gerald Mosse to walk and trot Charming Talker for a full circuit of the grass track before working him over a full 1,800 metres.
Charming Talker's response was emphatic. Despite the searching pacework of his first 1,400 metres, he had enough dash left to clock a most pleasing 22.7 seconds for his final quarter.
He may not be good enough to beat the likes of Deerfield come the Derby but one thing looks on the cards, he will be much closer to Deerfield in the big race than he was in the Classic Trial.
As Biancone reiterated: ''My plan is to have Charming Talker at his absolute peak on Derby Day. The Classic Trial was just part of the plan. It was a help as it showed me how much - or maybe how little - my horse needs to improve to win the Derby. We are all pleased with the way he is going though of course we must respect the chances of Deerfield.'' Deerfield's outstanding Derby claims were certainly done no harm by his trackwork yesterday morning, either.
He clocked a broadly similar time to Charming Talker for his final 1,200 metres, notching an easy 1:16.8. His last 400 metres was markedly slower than Charming Talker's - 23.3 seconds compared to 22.7 - but then jockey Brent Thomson was easing him down whereas Mosse kept up the pressure all the way to the wire.
Deerfield's breeding, being by Belmont Stakes winner Summing out of a staying mare, suggests he will relish the move to 1,800 metres every bit as much as Charming Talker.
The way he has progressed as a racing machine also lends weight to his developing distance requirements. He kept on relentlessly to the line in his work yesterday morning, indicating he is turning into a determined galloper rather than a horse who can sitand sprint. This was also the impression he gave in the Classic Trial when a highly creditable second to Happy Guy after slugging it out with Brian Kan Ping-chee's Irish import all the way up the straight.
Bruce Hutchison's Perkyman is worth keeping on the right side of. He needed his run behind E Treasure at Sha Tin last time when ridden by Mosse.
Perkyman still looks capable of developing in a smart performer over a mile to 1,800 metres. Yesterday he flowed to the line in his grass gallop.
Stablemate Spirits Bay looked capable of adding to his recent victory when galloping on the equitrack.
Spirits Bay showed a fine turn of foot to come from near last to win over 1,800 metres last time from Thunder And Gold but is a better horse over the maximum trip.
The underestimated Hutchison has put a fair bit of work into Spirits Bay since that success and his five-year-old has never gone better.