Mr Gnocchi: first pasta the post?
Gene Tsoi believes he's discovered a gem in Australian colt ahead of Sunday's Derby
Horse owner-breeder Dr Gene Tsoi Wai-wang says buying young horses is like buying rocks in Myanmar - you won't know if there's a gem inside until you bring it back and crack it open.
This time, he found a first-class gem in Mr Gnocchi.
When he bought the six-month-old colt in Australia three years ago, there was nothing that made him stand out from the others. He bought Mr Gnocchi because he thought the price of the horse was reasonable.
Now, with more than HK$3 million in winnings behind him, Mr Gnocchi is ready to take part in Sunday's annual Hong Kong Derby - one of the biggest events on the city's racing calendar and its most historic race.
The 2,000-metre race brings together the city's 14 best four-year-old horses.
"Among the horses that I previously owned, some of them never won and some never even took part in a race. This one has got back for me what I lost in the past," said Tsoi, a former president of the Hong Kong College of Family Physicians who runs a private clinic in Central.
If Mr Gnocchi clinches the title, Tsoi will become only the second racehorse owner in Hong Kong to have two Derby champions in traceable records dating back to 1971. His other gem was Elegant Fashion, who became the first filly to win the Derby in almost two decades in 2003.
The first owner was Larry Yung Chi-kin, whose horses won in 1997 and 2002.
The Hong Kong Derby was first run in 1873 - a full 11 years before the Hong Kong Jockey Club was established. This will be the 137th running of the Derby.
Like many races around the world, the Derby took its name from Britain's Epsom Derby, although most other such races feature three-year-olds.
However, Tsoi is not very confident of achieving his place in the history books. "His score is intermediate among the other horses. I'll be happy if it finishes in the top five," he said.
Mr Gnocchi is Tsoi's 12th horse in Hong Kong since he started as an owner 25 years ago. He bought the colt for A$40,000 (about HK$280,000) in 2011 and had him trained in New Zealand. Mr Gnocchi started running in Hong Kong's races last year, clinching victory in five of the 12 races he ran in. Mr Gnocchi has won him HK$3,326,000 so far.
But that will pale into insignificance if Mr Gnocchi brings home the bacon in Sunday's Derby, for which the purse is HK$16 million. The top prize is more than HK$9 million.
The horse is in the 12th lane for Sunday. As Mr Gnocchi is not the front-running type, Tsoi says being drawn towards the outside will not hit his hopes.
Tsoi named the horse Gnocchi after the Italian potato dumpling because he was not very responsive at first, like a potato. Mr Gnocchi is calm and seldom loses his temper in races, Tsoi said.
A runner in his school days, Tsoi made owning horses his hobby because he enjoyed the spirit of racing. "Horses are loyal to the race. Horse-racing is not just about gambling, it's also been a social networking event since the colonial days," he said.
Sunday's race begins at 4.35pm and takes place over the turf at Sha Tin.