'That's hard to top but winning the race will be even better,' says trainer after securing prime starting positions
Trainer David Hayes has already defied the odds in Sunday's Hong Kong Derby, drawing the inside four gate positions at yesterday's barrier draw. 'That's hard to top but winning the race will be even better,' said a smiling Hayes.
The distribution of Hong Kong Derby start positions featured horse names drawn at random from sealed bags and a subsequent blind selection process for barrier numbers - a double luck situation that made Hayes' good fortune all the more remarkable.
The magic of a Derby win loomed as a twice in a lifetime experience for Helene Vitality who drew pole position with Meridian Star in gate two. Charming City starts from three and Momentum from four.
On an afternoon when a number of owners declared their confidence going to the race, some of the biggest smiles were apparent in the Hayes camp.
Race jockey Shane Dye was clearly pleased with the one marble for Helene Vitality, who won the 1999 New Zealand Derby under his previous racing name, Hades. 'I'll take barrier one every time - it's the best draw in any race,' said Dye, who has made big-race confidence his signature in Australia. 'There'll be plenty of pace on and I can just relax Helene Vitality back on the rails in the early part of the race. I won't have to think about anything until the 800m.'
Dye pointed to the ideal draw for distance-query and stablemate Charming City, too. 'From three, he'll just come back for John Murtagh in the box seat behind them and that draw and ability to relax will help him to get the trip,' Dye said.
Hayes agreed, saying that 'Charming City has effectively drawn one because he'll easily cross the two inside him'.
Hayes said the draw suggested the race will be run with 'at least an even tempo', with horses like Idol (barrier 12) and Red Sun (14) likely to be obliged to press forward to overcome difficult gates.
He added they would be unlikely to get across easily, as Red Pepper (7) and Citizen Kane (8) seemed certain to want to hold their positions on the inside. 'You look at the field there now and you can see three or four horses who are capable of leading and I can see the field going out quickly from the start to get into position, then the race will steady,' he said.
'But what usually happens in mid-race is that those jockeys who find themselves caught wide when the pace does slacken then have to make a second move forward to try and get closer in, and that sets the tempo rolling again.'
Hayes added that Meridian Star and Momentum would also have open options depending on the race speed after drawing in close.
Robbie Fradd drew more or less where he was hoping with Epic Express (6), enabling him to sit the Irish-bred on the back of the pacemakers, and part-owner Ranjan Mahtani said the confidence behind Epic Express had not been altered by the barrier positions.
Tony Cruz said yesterday morning at trackwork that his three Derby runners 'are fit and ready', but he certainly didn't get his wish-list at the starting gates.
Cruz had hoped for Glyndebourne (10), Magnifier (9) and Red Sun to start 'between one and seven, somewhere in the inside half of the field' and missed out with all three. He remained confident of a good showing, however.
Glyndebourne has been Derby-placed previously in Britain and has the reputation of a wet-track performer but Cruz is expecting a better effort. 'Yes, all his best form has been on soft going but I think he's getting used to the ground in Hong Kong now and I expect him to handle the firmer track if that's what he has on Derby day,' Cruz said.
Gate-picking duties for Glyndebourne at yesterday's function went to rival Derby trainer David Oughton, who stood in for the connections of the horse and quipped that he might have to look for a commission if Glyndebourne did the job ahead of his pair of Idol and Good Heavens (5).
Tony Cruz said he also expected Magnifier, a Group Two winner in Australia who ran a bold second to Fairy King Prawn at his Hong Kong debut, to make a lie of his second-run failure.
On that occasion, Magnifier pulled up with a pulmonary arhythmia problem. 'That was a million to one chance,' Cruz said yesterday. 'There's no way that will affect Magnifier on Sunday.'
Although not quite what Cruz was after, barrier nine should allow Felix Coetzee to bury Magnifier back in the field with a nice run. Jockey Mick Kinane (Idol) was philosophical about his wide draw in 12 of 14 runners. 'Well, the other day he won from 11 of 12, so we'll just have to overcome the bad barrier again,' he said.