O'Sullivan's Derby plans right on target
Paul O'Sullivan hailed his programme for a repeat win in the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby as being 'right on schedule' after assessing the fighting win of Never Look Back at only the third time of asking.
Never Look Back, ridden by Brett Prebble, raced handy to the leaders throughout and toughed it out all the way down the straight, ultimately prevailing by a head from the late-charging Natural Nine (Shane Dye), with the ultra-consistent Prime Score (Jacky Tong Chi-kit) another head away in third place.
Never Look Back has given the members of the Paul O'Sullivan Trainer Syndicate a dream return, but as the champion New Zealander explained yesterday, this HK$1,350,000 Class Two race may be just the beginning.
'That was a really good win because he had to do it a bit tough and has kept on very strongly,' he said. 'Now it starts to get serious because his next run will be the Classic Mile.'
The HK$8 million Group One Classic Mile is the first leg of the Mercedes-sponsored triple crown for four-year-olds. After that comes the Group Two Derby Trial (1,800m) on February 17, with the jewel in the crown, the HK$14 million Hong Kong Derby (2,000m), to be decided on March 16.
O'Sullivan and Prebble combined to win the 2007 Derby with Vital King, and a number of that gelding's owners have buttered up with shares in Never Look Back as well.
Never Look Back previously raced as The One for Mike Moroney in New Zealand and Australia. He won the Group Three Danehill Stakes over 1,200m at Flemington as a spring three-year-old and trained on for second in the Group Two AAMI Vase over 2,050m at Moonee Valley.
The form looks rather awesome, 14 months down the track, as Never Look Back's conqueror at Moonee Valley was Efficient, who won the Group One Victoria Derby in an afternoon stroll seven days later, not to mention this year's Melbourne Cup.
Never Look Back was ridden more prominently in yesterday's race and credit for the change rested squarely with Prebble.
'Paul had been advised from New Zealand that the horse absolutely had to be ridden back, or else he would pull too hard,' Prebble said.
'I looked at all his videos and formed the view that he was racing keenly anyway, so why not be forward and strong on the bridle, [rather] than back in the field racing the same way?
'I was fairly confident that he would adapt if ridden this way, so I'm very happy that it worked out so well. He's a good, tough horse and in a year where there don't appear to be any real stand-out four-year-olds at this stage, he'll have as good a chance as most in those big races.'
Prebble, who was returning from a two-meeting suspension, went very close to making it a double on Ouraja in the final event but the bob of the heads went against him and resulted in a nose decision in favour of Felix Coetzee on Congratulation.