Caspar Fownes declared Lucky Nine 'a future international performer' after the gelding landed the Group One Mercedes-Benz Classic Mile in hollow style yesterday.
The margin may only have been a 13/4 lengths and there was encouragement for the future among those chasing him home, but Lucky Nine (Brett Prebble) was never in any real danger of losing the race.
'He jumped nicely, he was on the bridle early but he came back under me at the 600m - I think stepping off the tempo of the 1,200m sprints he has been in and going to the different tempo of the mile, he just needed some practice again at dropping his head,' Prebble explained. 'But, by the home turn, he had relaxed properly and saved some energy on the circle and gave me a lovely ride. He was still a bit green going clear in the straight - a horse inside him gave him a scared and he ran away from it, but one crack to straighten him up and he finished the job. He's an exciting horse and it will take a crowbar to get me off him.'
Last year's Classic Mile victor, Beauty Flash, stepped up to win the Hong Kong Mile last month and Fownes was enthusiastically forecasting a similar future for Lucky Nine.
'He is an international Group One performer of the future for sure. This was pretty much what I expected today - it has been his main target for the season all the way through and, from the handicapper's ratings, he was entitled to win the way he did,' Fownes said. 'All credit to Brett, who rode him a great race, and I did ask him not to really open the horse up. First time at the mile, I didn't want him bottomed out, and he was pretty soft on him.'
But the welcome and well-anticipated win also brought with it some baggage as the temptation for connections must be to press on through the set weights races over 1,800m and then the 2,000m of the Derby with Hong Kong's highest-rated four-year-old.
'That's probably the biggest question Caspar might get asked all year, whether to go on stretching him out,' said Prebble. 'Is he good enough? Yes. Do you take that path? I'll leave that to Caspar but I won't be getting off him.'
Fownes said he would make an entry for Lucky Nine in the renamed Derby Trial over 1,800m - the Hong Kong Classic Cup on February 20 - and decide closer to the event whether he would run: 'In their classic year, it's always tempting, they only get one crack at the Derby, but I'll always do the right thing for the horse.'
Yet, as much as the winning team came away with a glow, John Moore and Darren Beadman were far from unhappy with runner-up Xtension as he confirmed the promise of his debut second and he is certainly headed to the next leg of the four-year-old series over an extra 200m.
'Take nothing away from the winner, he is a very good horse, but had Xtension drawn a better gate where I could have tracked Lucky Nine through the race, I think we would have finished right there with him,' said Beadman. 'The plan was to sit back, hopefully let Little Bridge take me into the race and Little Bridge didn't take me far enough. An outstanding run and Xtension was a better horse all round today.'
Stablemate Military Move was ridden more positively sitting outside the leader but, as Moore had suspected, the New Zealand Derby winner would not relax with so much daylight. 'I think he needs cover but his owner wanted to see him ridden handy, the way they used to ride him in New Zealand, and it didn't come off,' Moore said. 'I think you can be a bit forgiving of that run.'
Treasure Lands and Outdoor Pegasus finished the race off strongly in third and fourth respectively, with trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai suggesting the latter's outside gate had cost him a placing. The disappointment of the race was Little Bridge, who loomed, but did not finish the race off to wind up fifth.
'First time at the mile he got a bit tired - we'll have to sit down and work out where we go next,' said trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing.
Lucky Nine produced an exciting final sectional to give trainer Caspar Fownes and jockey Brett Prebble their first Classic Mile triumph: 22.78