Brown-lamped Berio gets the money as Derby aspirants have mixed day
Trainer David Hall was as stunned as anyone when Berio was sensationally backed into favouritism in the last race, a Class Two Handicap where a trio of expensive imports began their campaigns towards the most prestigious race.
The Sha Tin tote board lit up as Berio was slammed from as much as $150 to jump $36.50, an avalanche of money crunching the seven-year-old's odds, a single bet of HK$4.5 million arriving seconds before the kick among the deluge of support.
'It's amazing to see that sort of money bet on a horse,' Hall said. 'You know it's not from the stable, you know it's not from the owner, but you just hope they're right and hope they've picked the right one.
'He is an old horse with arthritis and he could easily be pulling up sore tomorrow and not winning, so they were brave to put the money on.'
Ben So Tik-hung did his part, surging forward with 116 pounds from his wide draw.
'He tries very hard and puts himself in good positions,' Hall said. 'But I don't think the horse has all of a sudden turned into a superstar overnight, he is what he is.'
Berio hung on by a short head at the end of 1,600m to the fast-finishing and unlucky Finezza, but it was the horse's nominated for the Group One Mercedes-Benz Derby (March 18) where attention was also focused.
John Moore had mixed results with his pair, the 89-rated Dan Excel producing a slashing trial running into third, and 95-rated Dominant eased out of the contest to finish 10th after overracing slightly.
Both were better than highest-rated of the trio though, the John Size-trained Cheers Joy (95), who was a disappointing 12th after box-seating in the run.
Dan Excel came into the race with a solitary 800m trial and was 'fat', according to Moore. 'That's the kind of run you like to see from them,' he said, while Jeff Lloyd gave the colt top marks.
'To go straight to the mile wasn't ideal,' he said. 'He just bottomed out the last 150m, but he travelled nice and is a top horse.'
Dominant looked good in the parade ring, but needed another hit-out before tackling the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Cup (1,800m) in two weeks time.
'He just blew up half way up the straight and will be much better for it,' Moore said. 'We're just happy to get a run into both of them.'