English trainer David Oughton believes yesterday's Sha Tin card might have doubled his Hong Kong Derby chances next month, even though his frontline contender Precision was beaten without excuse. 'That takes nothing from his Derby chance and he'll definitely press on,' Oughton said after watching him overhauled near home by the Geoff Lane-trained Rebel Leader in the final event.
'I thought he had the job ahead giving away weight all around to older horses today and really, by the form book, a five-year-old like Rebel Leader was entitled to beat him getting six pounds off us.'
Earlier in the day, Oughton's more recent acquisition, the former English galloper Cape Of Good Hope, advertised his johnny-come-lately Derby hopes with a dogged victory for Douglas Whyte in the Class Two sixth event. 'He was bought to be a Derby horse but he only got here in October-November, which didn't give us a lot of time, but he might get there anyway,' Oughton said.
'What they do with his rating after this win could be important to whether he gets in, and unfortunately he is a big, idle sort of horse who doesn't do a lot once he gets in front. He just does enough, so he has only won by a small margin and that might make it difficult for the handicapper to put his rating up far.'
Oughton said he had the option to run Cape Of Good Hope again next weekend to improve his rating, but added that it was most unlikely. 'He has already had to back up from the Chinese New Year meeting to this race today,' he said. 'There is a mile race next weekend he could run in, but it would not be a very good preparation for the Derby, backing him up again.'
Cape Of Good Hope won off a rating of 84 yesterday and handicapper Ciaran Kennelly would not put a figure on how much he would raise the horse for his head winning margin, but added that ratings were not the only factor in the selection process. 'I think a horse on the rise like Cape Of Good Hope, for instance, would be in front of a horse like Snowstorm for the Derby, even though Snowstorm was off a 95 rating before today,' he said.
Asked to compare his two runners yesterday, Oughton said the impressive son of Inchinor was more of a stayer than Precision. 'I think Cape Of Good Hope is more of a true stayer than Precision, who has a lot of speed,' he said. 'Cape Of Good Hope is on the up and up and I think he is the sort of horse the Jockey Club wants to see in the Derby. I'm sure he deserves his chance.'
While Precision's defeat yesterday was a blow for punters who backed him into short-priced favouritism, neither Oughton nor the grey's Derby jockey, Douglas Whyte, was disappointed. 'I felt he wasn't completely wound up for this race, and thought he did a good job even though he was beaten,' Whyte said.
'There is a still a little bit more there for the Derby and he ran very well with top weight. When he drops back against his own age, and at level weights, he'll be better suited. You would have to say that of the two of David's horses today, Cape Of Good Hope probably dug a bit deeper at the finish than Precision but I'm sure Precision is still the Derby horse.'
Wrapping up a well-earned Class One double for trainer Lane, Rebel Leader's win was his second on the trot after the five-year-old had begun to gather the reputation of a non-winner.
'I think Rebel Leader is maturing as a racehorse now. He did have the habit of losing concentration in his races and losing his position but he hasn't done it his last two starts and perhaps now he is realising what racing is all about,' said Lane. 'It was his first run for two months, so it wasn't a bad effort to win at 1,800 metres, either.'
The victory gave exuberant French rider Olivier Doleuze his first Class One win in Hong Kong.
Lane said he couldn't recall the last time he had won a Class One double, as he did yesterday after having earlier assisted champion Irish rider Michael Kinane in the first win of his Hong Kong stint. Kinane won on another ultra-consistent galloper, Thank Heavens, in the fifth contest.
'Eric Legrix has been riding the horse and probably would have done again, but he is out suspended and that happens in racing,' Lane said. 'I've had a bit of luck at times in the past with Michael so I was only too happy to put him on. Thank Heavens has been racing well without having things go his way I guess the win today wasn't out of his turn. He has been very consistent.'