Hong Kong Vase favourite Daliapour was yesterday bought to remain here after Sunday's 2,400-metre spectacular in one of the biggest and best deals ever for local racing. The four-year-old son of Sadler's Wells, Group One hero of the Coronation Cup and runner-up in last season's English Derby, was purchased by property tycoon Robert Ng Chee Siong for a sum thought to be near US$1 million after the colt impressed in a Sha Tin workout yesterday morning.
After Sunday, Daliapour will be trained by Ivan Allan. But Daliapour will officially remain in the care of Newmarket handler Sir Michael Stoute for this weekend's Group One staying event, where he will race in Ng's red and purple silks rather than the green with red epaulets of his former owner, the Aga Khan. It is understood that the world's hottest big-race rider, Irishman Johnny Murtagh, who has 11 Group One triumphs to his name this campaign, will retain the ride.
Allan said yesterday: 'He's a lovely horse. I'm looking forward to having him, but it's going to be difficult to improve a horse from Sir Michael Stoute. It would be good to win another big one with him. The sort of races he will be aimed at are the [Audemars Piguet] Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the [Aetna Hong Kong] Champions and Chater Cup.'
The master mentor, who has done so well with other big-name purchases from England, such as last season's Champions and Chater Cup winner Housemaster and his versatile 1997 Derby winner Oriental Express, added: 'But first of all I will give him a rest after Sunday and aim him for the Dubai Sheema Classic next March.'
Ng is the chairman of Sino Land and one of the SAR's most successful property tycoons. One of Sino Land's offshoots, Sino Hotels, is the major stakeholder in the Conrad Hotel, while Ng's company was also responsible, in partnership with Sun Hung Kai Properties, for the development of Hong Kong's tallest building, Central Plaza.
He and his father Ng Teng Fong, a keen race fan, have some 70 horses in training in their native Singapore, where Ng senior owns three-quarters of the island state's main drag, Orchard Road. The Ng horses race under the banner Lucky Stable and are with trainers such as Charles Leck and Malcolm Thwaites, though Allan trained a Singaporean Derby winner and several Singapore Gold Cup winners for the family before moving to Hong Kong.
Robert Ng once had a share in the expensive Snippets private purchase griffin Zippalanda, along with the likes of John Hung, the Sports Development Board supremo.
But this is his first outright venture into Hong Kong racing. He said yesterday: 'Daliapour is the highest rated horse I have owned. There will be some friendly rivalry between us when Daliapour takes on Ivan's Indigenous and Oriental Express on Sunday.' The Aga Khan said: 'His [Daliapour's] family improve with age. They are a late developing family. He is a really courageous horse.'
Ng's outright entry into the local racing market is just the kind of thing the Hong Kong Jockey Club has been trying to encourage with significant prize-money boosts at the quality end of the scale and by a number of changes to the racing programme to encourage the purchase of stayers.
Director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was yesterday thrilled to see the deal, which was brokered by Dominic Li's Rigby Bloodstock, come to fruition. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: 'This is excellent for the sport. Generally it is very, very good to see top-class horses bought to come and race here. It is exactly the kind of thing we have been trying to promote.
'I must say I saw Daliapour work this morning and he moved well. He was impressive.'
A measure of Daliapour's quality is that he handed out a sound beating to close Japan Cup third Fantastic Light in this season's Coronation Cup at Epsom. Fantastic Light is one of the leading contenders for Sunday's feature event, the $14 million Hong Kong Cup. Daliapour also ran third to the brilliant Montjeu in the King George and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Stakes and third to Mutafaweq in the International at Woodbine. He is effective on all surfaces, having won on soft ground and on ground rated good to firm.
As well as being one of the world's best stayers, the beauty of the deal for Ng is that Daliapour will be much sought after as a stallion prospect once his racing career is over.
Thus there is very little downside to the purchase. He's by the world's leading sire, Sadler's Wells, and from one of the Aga Khan's high-class dams. He would make great appeal as a shuttle stallion between the northern and southern hemispheres, prompting thoughts that he may be a snip at US$1 million.
European odds on the International races (supplied by Victor Chandler)
Vase: 3 Daliapour, 9-2 Ela Athena, 5 Craigsteel, 13-2 Indigenous, 7 Catella, 8 Helene Vitality, 10 bar.
Cup: 100-30 Fantastic Light, 7-2 Jim And Tonic, 6 Industrialist, 13-2 Samum, 8 Elle Danzig, Greek Dance, 10 bar.
Mile: 5-2 Sunline, 100-30 Fairy King Prawn, 5 Electronic Unicorn, 7 Last Resort, 10 bar.
Sprint: 5-2 Nuclear Debate, 5 Bertolini, King Of The Danes, 7 Big Jag, 8 Best Of The Best, Morluc, 10 bar.