An Irish Hong Kong Derby winner on St Patrick's Day had an air of inevitability to it before and after the race, but the margin of joy and the manner of Akeed Mofeed's classic win kept the excitement in it right to the moment of triumph.
Champion jockey Douglas Whyte, once strangely maligned in the Chinese press as a man who won championships but not the majors, grabbed his third Derby in four years after guiding sophomore trainer Richard Gibson's favourite to a victory that was as unspectacular as it was anticipated.
"The Derby is so often a messy kind of race, with interference and a stop-start tempo, and I think if we'd had an even gallop he'd have won more cosily, prettier," said Whyte. "But it wasn't that sort of race, and he might have won it a bit ugly but he's won the Derby - no matter how he did it."
The Gibson story, saddling up three of the best winning chances for the world's second-richest Derby, had suddenly become more delicately poised an hour beforehand, when one of his trio was withdrawn by the Jockey Club vets. Mizani had been given a clean bill of health by the vets yesterday morning, but subsequently stepped on a stone, bruising his right front foot and after two vet inspections in the afternoon he was deemed unfit to race.
Gibson's team were down to two, both raced in the same ownership, Gold-Fun and Akeed Mofeed, and the latter was the horse for the moment.
"I knew I had the right horse. It's rare as a trainer going to a race like this and being in that position - he was the right horse and it would have made me inconsolable if he hadn't won, because that would have meant failure to execute on my part," Gibson said.
Triumph again for Whyte, a mixture of elation and relief for Gibson and sheer joy for Akeed Mofeed's owner, Pan Sutong and the 150 friends he flew in to be with him for the anticipated celebrations. That expense would have been dwarfed by the rumoured US$2 million Pan had spent acquiring Akeed Mofeed but Whyte and Gibson both paid tribute to the owner's bold roll of the pecuniary dice to get something special.
"He's a special man, Mr Pan - without him, neither Richard nor I would be standing here with the Derby trophy," Whyte said.
The highs were high enough but whether the HK$16 million BMW-sponsored Derby did enough to emerge from the shadow of the HK$6 million Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup 30 minutes before remained questionable. Dual Horse Of the Year Ambitious Dragon turned up in his super-hero outfit and simply crushed the next best horses in town under Zac Purton.
"He's had a couple of ups and down this season, and you don't really know which version of him has turned up until you get to the 200m - but the feeling you get when he travels like he did today is unbelievable," Purton said. Trainer Tony Millard said the QE II Cup at the end of next month was the next target on his schedule.
And the thrills of Derby day were enjoyed by a crowd of 62,000 - up 20 per cent on last year - and racing fans bet HK$1.3 billion on the card.
"There were skeptics regarding our investments in the racecourses and facilities and our master plan in general," said Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
"But our marketing I think is making significant progress at growing our customer base. A day like this isn't just for the hard-core racing fan, it's an event and having a good crowd creates this wonderful atmosphere. We have great betting turnover, but we also want great crowds and there's no reason we can't have both. We did today."Topics: Horse Racing Hong Kong Derby Akeed Mofeed Richard Gibson Douglas Whyte Ambitious Dragon Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup More on this: