The Jockey Club answered the plea of leading trainer John Size to include Real Specialist as the last invitee to the race that every owner craves, the HK$16 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby on March 18, but it was still David Ferraris who was oozing confidence after the final field was announced yesterday.
Most expectations were met, with John Moore's powerful four-year-old team grabbing their expected six positions in the race with Zaidan, Dominant, Smart Giant, Same World, Dan Excel and Military Attack, as the trainer seeks a fourth Derby win to equal Brian Kan Ping-chee's record.
Moore may have the numbers but David Ferraris-trained Sweet Orange, the joint top-rated runner, remained the name on most lips as the nominal favourite and the South African was feeling positive.
'He won the Classic Mile and was unlucky in the Classic Cup - from what I've seen, I have to be confident,' said Ferraris, the 2005 Derby winner with Vengeance Of Rain. He will also send out Liberator in this year's Group One.
Executive director of racing Bill Nader said the Derby had a history dating back to 1873, but has 'blossomed to the point where our HK$16 million in prize money eclipses that of both the Epsom Derby in England and the Kentucky Derby in the United States and attracts high international interest.
'It's a charismatic race and a launch pad to greatness as we saw 12 months ago when Ambitious Dragon beat Xtension. Both have subsequently won international Group One events.'
The 2012 edition of Hong Kong's favourite race will feature both the lowest top-rated runners and the lowest bottom-rated horse since the 2006 Derby, won by Viva Pataca.
In that year, Hello Pretty held the highest pre-race handicap mark of 106, while Matiri King took the last spot in the field with a 75 rating. This year the range will be 110 (Fay Fay, Sweet Orange and Zaidan) down to 83 (Real Specialist). Size walked away from the selections happy after Jockey Club officials heard his plea for lightly raced Real Specialist to be included and he gained the final field position ahead of 89-rated Real Supreme.
'Fay Fay has been headed towards it all season as one of the leading contenders, but I am grateful the selection committee has found a place in the Derby for an improving horse like Real Specialist,' said Size (pictured), who has booked Brett Prebble to ride Real Specialist, while regular partner Douglas Whyte will pilot Fay Fay.
Freshman trainer Richard Gibson was pleased to have made the Derby field in what has already been an impressive debut season and he will saddle up Beauty Lead for owner Simon Kwok Siu-ming.
Kwok is not new to the Derby, as Beauty Flash started favourite when fourth to Super Satin two years ago, and Hello Pretty was a strong second favourite for Viva Pataca's Derby before finishing fifth, but there will be less expectation on Beauty Lead despite his impressive 94 rating, as he has yet to hit form in two runs.
'I have to thank Mr Kwok for allowing me to go and buy him a horse of this quality in my first season,' Gibson said. 'Beauty Lead is going to be fitter for the Derby and I would say he's an interesting outsider. He is one of the only runners that people can be sure of running out the distance.'
Tony Cruz, who won a record four Derbies as a jockey and has won two more as a trainer, will be two-handed with Bullish Champion and Packing Tycoon, while last year's winning trainer, Tony Millard, will send out former Sydney galloper Masquerader in his quest for back-to-back victories.