Moment of truth for Size's Fay Fay
The John Size-trained Fay Fay has let his supporters down twice lately at short odds in his lead-ups to the HK$16 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, but he is capable of overcoming an outside draw to put on a reversal to win today.
Taken at face value, Fay Fay (Douglas Whyte) has some to find to mix it in the finish of this event with Sweet Orange (Weichong Marwing), but a change in tempo from the muddling-run Classic Mile and Classic Cup could bring a change of form from the son of Falkirk.
Even progressing through the grades earlier this season, Fay Fay was unimpressive in two defeats of Dragon Fighter when the pace was slow or stop-start.
When he had a proper tempo, though, first-up in October over 1,400m and three starts ago winning a Class Two over 1,600m, Fay Fay looked the real deal.
The second of those wins was enough for fans to send him out as a 1.5 favourite in the Classic Mile, but Fay Fay was subdued by the terribly slow pace and unable to sprint past Sweet Orange.
Then in the Classic Cup at 1,800m, Fay Fay was again presumed the best horse in the race and sent out favourite. This time the race began quickly enough but slowed up sharply during the middle stages, and Fay Fay overraced, getting on the heels of horses in front of him and having to be checked twice in running. While he made ground steadily in the run down the straight, Fay Fay wasn't in any shape to produce his best finish by then.
Key to his chance is the prospect of a totally different tempo as well as the longer distance.
Bullish Champion (Matthew Chadwick) looks quick enough to dominate the head of the race, but horses like Dan Excel and Liberator are likely to be handy. Liberator is a real slogging stayer, so his rider Tye Angland will be on the lookout to take over the lead if Chadwick attempts to slow it down.
After two runs performing below his best, the question is whether Fay Fay is still at the top of his game but, with a stronger speed, the Fay Fay that strolled home in January over Semos - a Hong Kong maiden but classy enough to finish fifth in the Derby last year - would be good enough to win.
Gate 14 never looks good, even if Ambitious Dragon came from there to win the 2011 Derby, but the reality is that drawing the outside simply took all the guess work out of his tactics. Whyte has no option but to switch the gelding off towards the rear and swoop in the straight, which has been the four-year-old's best game and more often than not the way big races are won at the Sha Tin 2,000m.
No-one could deny the strong form of Sweet Orange, and the David Ferraris-trained colt should also benefit from a good tempo if he gets into the right trip from his awkward barrier 10. The way the pace maps out, getting a nice spot in midfield might be more keenly contested going to the first turn than any other field position.
John Moore is looking for his fourth Derby win and has almost half the field, with the best of them probably Dominant (Neil Callan).
He has come on in leaps and bounds since his first trial and race appearances when he looked unlikely to make this day as any sort of contender. His Classic Mile third was excellent after being held up and his trial since suggests further improvement.
The winning strike rate for John Size and Douglas Whyte, who are leading the trainers' and jockeys' table, this season