Woods' Derby hopes back on track thanks to smart Free Judgement
The outgoing Tiger preyed upon two of Sean Woods' Hong Kong Derby hopefuls in the final weeks of the lunar cycle, but Free Judgement hopped right into contention with the Year of the Rabbit, and Woods is once again hopeful of snaring the four-year-old classic on March 20.
Woods lost both promising stayers Lucky Forever and Farm Legend to knee ligament injuries and his Derby hopes were all but crushed - until Free Judgement reproduced his European form and bounded into the frame as a genuine contender, with a three-quarter length win over lightweight Fat Choy Oohlala and the unlucky Semos.
'Free Judgement will go straight to the Hong Kong Classic Cup now and I must say I'm really positive about him improving further next start and over the 1,800 metres,' Woods said. 'The pace was against him big time, it was a slowly run race and that just counts as a bigger positive, because he has shown he can relax on a slower tempo and still produce a brilliant finish.
'Everything he does in his races and trackwork tells us he should stay, he'll get 1,800 metres for sure, but you're never really sure if they'll run out the 2,000 metre Derby trip until they've tried. It couldn't have come at a better time for the stable in terms of our Derby hopes, and he really is in the picture now as a horse to be reckoned with both in the Derby Trial and the main event.'
Olivier Doleuze capped a memorable afternoon, which included the Group One win on Dim Sum with the victory in the last, and Woods confirmed the Frenchman would retain the ride on Free Judgement for the remainder of his Derby campaign.
'He won like a very nice horse, to do what he did today, at his second start with the 132 pounds was most impressive,' Doleuze said. 'He was a press button ride and, once we got to the outside, he came home like a train.'
Woods bookended the programme with a pair, which also helped Dreams Maker's pilot, Maxime Guyon, to his own double and Jockey Challenge victory, care of a 54-point super haul which included an incredible five second placings.
'It would have been nice to have swapped some of those seconds for more winners, but it was still a very good day,' Guyon said.
'Dreams Maker has improved in his last two runs and, with the sit today, he proved too strong in the sprint home.'