Our Pal has touch of class
ONCE upon a time the Hong Kong Classic Trial was of precious little value when assessing the Hong Kong Derby - and it was also something of a jinx race as far as the Blue Riband event on the domestic calendar was concerned. A horse winning the Classic Trial did not go on to win the Derby and it reached a stage where some owners actually instructed their trainers not to run in the lead-up event. But that changed completely when Sound Print and Mick Kinane won the Trial and went on to capture the Classic in grand style. And the Trial, run over 1,600 metres, is now the perfect lead-up race for the Derby as it is run two weeks before the big event.
In the past it was actually run at Happy Valley, which seems more than faintly ridiculous when the Classic is at Sha Tin. Although a number of Derby hopefuls are not declared for today's Classic Trial there are enough of them down to run to give this racereal value as a guide to the February 27 renewal. Primarily, attention will be focused on the excellent Our Pal from the Derek Cruz stable who is a fairly hot pre-race favourite for the Classic - and rightly so. Our Pal has soared through the classes sinceactually being beaten in Class Five at the start of last season.
He is now in Class One and his win on International Races Day for Declan Murphy was exciting and, as far as the Derby is concerned, highly instructive. Our Pal beat Deerfield and Enthusiasm with some other useful types well in his wake. It was a solid winagainst seasoned campaigners and saw Our Pal installed immediately as favourite for the Derby. When Our Pal won for Murphy, trainer Derek Cruz and jockey-brother Tony weren't on the best of terms but that highly publicised split has since ended with Tony doing a lot of riding for the stable.
He is back aboard Our Pal and it's going to take a very good horse to beat him in the Trial and the Derby. Sensibly, the Jockey Club have decided that both the winner and runner-up will go straight into the Derby field which gives even greater significance to this race. This may well be of particular significance to leading trainer Ivan Allan who has three runners involved today, All Thrills, McBrave and Sterling Town.
It would need a win or second placing to guarantee qualification for McBrave who is unplaced from two starts here. It is well worth noting that the horse has been blinkered for the first time and he has been working along particularly well. Champion jockey Basil Marcus rides McBrave while Lester Piggott takes the reins on Sterling Town.
Allan has certainly gone for quality in relation to riders as French star Gerald Mosse, back in action after a three-day ban for careless riding, partners All Thrills.
McBrave came to Hong Kong with an excellent reputation and substantial Group form in Australia. And it is worth noting, too, that his last run when he officially finished 11th was not a bad one at all. He was less than four lengths from winner Happy Guy and improvement can be expected. There has been talk for some time that the Derby's place in the calendar is too early for some Northern Hemisphere imports who turn four on January 1 and are imported as three-year-olds in the current season.
Frankly, any date would probably end up not being entirely right for every horse and there is no real need to change the current date. On this occasion, however, it will work against horses like the Geoff Lane-trained Accelerating and Peter Ng Bik-kuen's Arman's Sax, both of whom had substantial overseas form before export.
Both have had one Hong Kong run and were not basically involved in the races which suggests they have a lot to do here. Cop The Cash is John Moore's Derby hope and he has notched up two excellent wins in lower company. He is now a Class Two galloper but there is every reason to suppose that he will go higher and John Marshall must be entertaining hopes today. Thunder Bolt has won his last two races in exemplary fashion and has suddenly emerged as a more than useful type. He now tackles the best here but the Trial is over what would seem to be his pet distance of 1,600 metres and there will certainly be good odds about him.