Ferraris has no doubt Sweet Orange can deliver

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am


When Vengeance Of Rain was preparing for the 2005 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby by stringing together a series of wins, his jockey Anthony Delpech handed out a free tip for anyone who would listen.

'I've ridden a lot for David Ferraris in South Africa and I'll tell you this: he is an outstanding trainer of these good horses and he'll get it right,' he told the media more than once before the son of Zabeel won the Derby to herald a great international career.

Whether today's favourite, Sweet Orange, has the scope to do the kinds of things that Vengeance Of Rain did, time will be the judge, but that assessment of the colt's trainer reverberates going into today's classic.

Ferraris is double-handed in the race, with Liberator - a horse he sees heading towards 2,400-metre races later in the term - entitled to his place but lacking his stablemate's star quality.

Earlier in the week, John Moore outlined the difficulties involved in getting horses to the Derby with petrol left in the tank when they have arrived unraced, but there is no easy path to today's glittering trophy.

Buying raced horses is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never quite know what you're going to get - and that becomes even more challenging when you're buying from one of the world's breeding and racing behemoths. You're not always sure it will even be a chocolate.

Every year, perhaps a dozen performed horses are bought by Hong Kong owners after racing in the colours of Coolmore Stud owner John Magnier or his wife, or their close associates, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Most come from the training yards of Aidan O'Brien or Magnier's brother-in-law, David Wachman.

The odd star drops through the cracks, like Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner River Dancer, or Queen Mother Memorial Cup winner Super Pistachio, narrowly beaten in the 2010 Derby, but the Coolmore machine is efficient and there are not many happy stories.

Still, this has been a big week for them - ex-O'Brien horse Emperor Claudius won during the week at Happy Valley and another, Packing Tycoon, takes his place in today's HK$16 million Derby alongside Sweet Orange.

'The owner had a replacement permit after retiring Asian Citrus and we were offered this horse by an agent, Chris McNulty. His form looked pretty good,' Ferraris said. 'They have so many horses at Coolmore, which means they have to cull a lot. It's hard to get a good one off them but nobody is a genius at the stage we're buying. The odd one will slip through - this horse had only had four starts, and they can't really know how they'll turn out at that point.

'Still, Aidan is very tough on his horses. He works them hard and I thought there's more chance of getting one off David Wachman with some upside in him; we got this guy and he was relatively inexpensive.'

Sweet Orange's attitude has been the key to his rise, with the four-year-old stallion displaying none of the bad habits that would normally see a colt gelded in this part of the world.

'A lot of Irish horses come here and do bugger-all, but Sweet Orange has been one that got here, hit the ground running and nothing seemed to bother him,' the trainer said. 'He's an entire but he's so well-mannered. He doesn't bite or kick. He's a really lovely horse.'

Sweet Orange showed from his debut he had talent and he easily won the final race of last season at his third local appearance.

'Weichong Marwing [his jockey] liked him after his first run and even more after that easy 1,400m win,' Ferraris said. 'I thought he would be a 1,400m or 1,600m horse and wasn't thinking about this Derby until he won the Classic Mile. Then I looked closer at his pedigree and thought there was stamina - after the way he went in the 1,800m last start, I have no worries he is a genuine Derby horse.'

Sitting towards the foot of the trainers' ladder with just nine wins for the season, Ferraris has aired in the past his disappointments at a lack of faith from many owners.

When Sweet Orange won the Group One Classic Mile in January, Ferraris purged himself of that bitterness, saying the stampede of horses moving from out-of-form stables in Hong Kong 'makes the wildebeest on the Serengeti look tame'.

Yet his season's redemption is just two minutes and change away this afternoon, and the son of one of South Africa's all-time great trainers, Ormond Ferraris, leaves no doubt these are the events that get him out of bed in the morning.

'Derbys are never easy to win. We don't have the best draw so he'll need a little luck but you usually need luck to win big races,' he said. ' Growing up, my father taught me to train for these great Group races and I love doing it. And I've certainly got a huge chance in this Derby.'