Schubert hits all the right notes for Hayes
Freshly blinkered Schubert (3-1 favourite) sounded a Hong Kong Derby warning with a fighting victory in the featured Hong Kong Together Cup that left champion trainer David Hayes wreathed in smiles.
The very popular Australian had to sweat through an ultra-tight photo finish before Schubert's number went up. But it was a run over 1,600 metres that should leave connections thinking positively of that important $7 million Derby date on March 7.
Schubert held off topweight Fastest Star (8-1) by the slimmest of margins with, significantly, two lengths back to Man Of Honour (4-1) who was best backed to beat the winner.
There was plenty of merit in the win as champion jockey Basil Marcus - who 30 minutes later completed a back-to-back double - had to get him out from among horses on the rail before putting in his telling challenge.
Arguably, Schubert lost some ground, so the eventual victory was all the sweeter for Hayes who said: 'He finished third last time and there was a bit of criticism around for the run.
'The blinkers were obviously a help to him. He had worn them in Australia but we held off using them here because he had been running well enough. He has always had the habit of missing the start, but he did jump with them today.
'He's in the Derby and he'll take his chance. Certainly this was encouraging, not just from the Derby viewpoint, but just to get a nice win out of a good horse.' Hayes will go into the Derby double-handed at least as he does have the South African champion Resfa laid out for the Classic and he looks like being the stable's number one choice. But Schubert will certainly be suited by the 1,800-metre trip of the Derby and there could be a very handy ride up for grabs if Marcus elects to ride Resfa.
Man Of Honour seemed to have every possible chance and was beaten on the merits, which suggests he might have some trouble turning this result around when he next clashes with Schubert, which is also likely to be in the Derby.
Winners haven't come quite as easily for the champion jockey this season but he produced a quick-fire double when Great Power (3-1 favourite) made it two wins from two starts by taking the fifth event on the holiday card.
Former champion trainer John Moore had every reason to smile with this result as the stable has been going through an almost unprecedented drought. It was Moore's first winner in 46 races and he almost provided the quinella until the Gerald Mosse-ridden Strong Win (6-1) was run out of it close home by the Kieren Fallon-ridden Midas (15-1).
Marcus kept the winner on an even keel and travelling well, and Moore was clearly justified in keeping the Australian three-year-old for the dirt. Great Power had looked fortunate to beat Destination on the dirt last time, but this emphatic win underlined the expected natural improvement and his liking for the surface.
Moore, who had seen so little of the winner's circle recently, was back there after the running of the seventh event when long-priced Plenty Win (28-1) gave maximum claimer Freddy C. T. Cheng his first success.
This has been a tremendous season for long-serving trainer Alex Wong Siu-tan and visiting English rider Michael Hills is reaping some of the spoils. The hard-working Hills has made something of a name for himself by landing long-priced winners and Wong has been making use of his talents recently - with success.
They struck with a 90-1 double yesterday when griffin Top Fit (13-1) took the opening event and dirt-loving Score (7-1) followed up with a comprehensive victory in the Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup later in the programme.
Although Oriental Treasure dominated betting in the juvenile race to start 7-5 favourite, there was support for other runners. But Top Fit, who had opened at 8-1, slowly drifted out as money came for others involved in the 1,000-metre dash.
The New Zealand two-year-old, ridden with understanding by Hills, responded most gamely at halfway and ran out a decisive 2.5-length winner over the favourite with Courage Star (20-1) finishing an interesting third.
Hills took the sixth event by the scruff of the neck, pushing Score forward to be laying upsides Full Metal Jacket (8-1) in the Class Two event.
Score was running with ears pricked and clearly enjoying the outing. Before the turn he was the only one you wanted to be on and Hills confidently kicked him clear to go on and win by just over three lengths.
American-bred Indy's Gem (5-1) did not have the clearest of runs and did make up ground late. He was closing on the winner but doing it in a manner that suggested a longer trip on this surface would be ideal.
A happy Hills has now posted seven winners and said: 'I am thoroughly enjoying my stay here. I have got to know the racing so much better recently and I am getting support.'