Chuang puts his faith in Willie

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am

Owner looks forward to the thrill of a lifetime with the horse of his dreams

When Eugene Chuang Yue-chien made the decision last season to buy himself a Derby horse he went straight to the top - to last season's record-breaking trainer Tony Cruz. The former champion jockey turned leading trainer then took a leaf out of the same book, consulting famous New Zealand breeder Sir Patrick Hogan, of Cambridge Stud. Between them, they ensured Chuang got his horse.

'I trust Tony so much, we are very good friends,' said Chuang, who revealed he had given the trainer a 'no budget order' to buy the horse of his dreams - a Hollywood-handsome four-year-old colt called Willie Detroy.

The impressive brown stallion is a strong third-line chance in today's $14 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby and was given a huge compliment by jockey Felix Coetzee when he chose to ride him ahead of quality stablemates Happee Owner and Very Fit.

For the excited owner, he's looking to receive the thrill of a lifetime in the event promoted as 'the race of a lifetime'. For Cruz, a victory might just be the biggest training performance of his highlight-packed career.

Willie Detroy, formerly known as Cheval de Troy during his time with veteran trainer Colin Jillings in New Zealand, joined a rare group of horses to win in Class One on their Hong Kong debut when he scored at Sha Tin in October. It's an elite club, with only Resfa, Elegant Fashion, Fokine, and Russian Pearl able to do it in the past nine years - note that three of them were Group One horses.

'I know it might sound strange but when he won narrowly first-up at his first start for me in Hong Kong, I was actually a bit disappointed - I thought he would win more easily,' Chuang mused this week.

'Then we ran him in the Classic Mile and he disappointed, but the following day we found he'd chipped a flake of bone in his knee and needed surgery.'

The news of the injury was disappointing for Chuang but a shade of deja vu for Cruz, who 12 months earlier had been involved in a similar race against the clock to get Russian Pearl back from a suspensory ligament injury.

With Russian Pearl, the vets said it couldn't be done. But under Cruz's guidance, the gelding not only made the Derby field, but he ran a scorching second to champion Vengeance Of Rain despite having not raced for three and a half months.

With Willie Detroy, the surgery was so clean and straightforward that the vets gave their blessing for a Derby preparation to continue.

Willie Detroy is by the same sire as Vengeance Of Rain, being a son of Hogan's champion sire Zabeel, who recently became only the third southern hemisphere stallion to sire 100 individual stakeswinners - 34 have won at Group One level.

Unlike most of his Derby rivals, Willie Detroy is a colt and Chuang has high hopes he'll follow in the footsteps of 2004 Derby hero Lucky Owners, whose value rose to around $60 million as a stallion in the wake of his classic success.

'My ambition to buy a Derby horse had one stipulation,' Chaung continued. 'It had to be a colt, I didn't want a gelding. Sir Patrick told me that Willie Detroy could even be the successor to Zabeel - that would be something that would make me very proud.'

Willie Detroy gets his name from Chuang's business, the Willie Corporation. 'Despite the setback with the knee surgery, I don't think it will affect him,' Chuang continued. 'Being by Zabeel, there is no doubt about his staying. That is what he's bred to do - he's bred to be a classic stayer.

'So even if his fitness is a little bit short, I believe that his class, his stallion character and maybe a bit of adrenalin will get him through.'