Leading Derby contender Victory Star came through his last really serious piece of work prior to Sunday's Blue Riband event with flying colours at a rain-soaked Sha Tin yesterday morning.
The David Oughton-trained English import worked a solid 1,400 metres on the main grass track and was always shading his stablemate, Gaylord, who can work along a bit himself. The farther they went, the better Victory Star appeared to be travelling for Mick Kinane, his big-race jockey who likes nothing more than the ultra-competitive atmosphere of Derby day.
Oughton has already gone on record to say that he is very pleased with Victory Star's Derby preparation and there was nothing in yesterday's work to suggest otherwise. John Moore's Derby outsiders Winning Lad, who is unlikely to get a run, and We Know When, worked together on the grass. Winning Lad went the better of the pair, but then he is a noted worker. Stephen Leung's improving Indigenous, likely to be ridden by Philip Robinson in the Derby, was another to gallop on the grass.
He went very smoothly and has improved from race to race and gallop to gallop. It is not inconceivable that he could be the surprise package on Sunday and run a place at huge odds. Staying with the Derby, Tony P. H. Chan's outside hope, Willie Way, passed his mandatory stalls test and can now take his place in the field. He jumped with stablemates, Honey Wind and Charming Talker in a private test after the running of two dirt trials and was basically given a very easy time of it by apprentice Raymond Tam.
Willie Way, fourth to Smart Kid in the Derby Trial, was forced to pass a barrier trial after playing up and having to be withdrawn at the gates on vet's grounds prior to the final event at last Wednesday night's Happy Valley meeting. In the two trials, David Hill's Class One sprinter Debonair made all in the opening heat to record a rare barrier trial win for jockey Robinson.
They usually have to send out a search party to find the astute English rider in these barrier trial sessions yet here he was turning the trial form book upside down by winning one. Touchwood ran on well for second place under Basil Marcus and it could be that trainer Tony Cruz is winning the battle with this American import who has undoubted ability, but hasn't been showing it in his races.
Ablaze, now with the Lawrie Fownes stable having done well for Oughton last season, also kept on in pleasing fashion. There was a bit of fun and games just prior to the jump when someone realised that Richard Quinn, due to partner, Super Structure, was actually wearing the colours of stablemate Colourful World who was set to race in the second trial. Quinn dashed Super Structure back to the unsaddling area and both horses competed in the second heat, the pair of them hitting the line in promising style.
The other good effort in this second trial came from Fownes' Captive Trick who also hit the line hard and could nearly win when next seen out down the straight 1,000-metre chute - his preferred course and distance.
SHA TIN ALL-WEATHER TRIALS First trial _ 1,050 metres: 1, DEBONAIR (P. Robinson); 2, Touchwood (B. Marcus); 3, Ablaze (W. Woods). Others (in finishing order): Flying High, Common Interests, Green King, Liffey River, Jollity, Trustwell. Time: 1.02.4 (23.6). Distances: 11/4 lengths, 31/2 lengths. Winner trained by David Hill.
Second trial _ 1,050 metres: 1, COLOURFUL WORLD (T. Quinn); 2, Captive Trick (W. Woods); 3, Super Structure (C. F. Chan). Others: Gallant Middy, Really The Best, The Lobbos, Running Cue, Eternity, Gagne Ensemble, Sky City, The King Of Honour. Time: 1.04.1 (24.7). Distances: 13/4 lengths, 21/2 lengths. Winner trained by Andy Leung Ting-wah.