The Jockey Club's BMW Hong Kong Derby selection panel played a straight bat in announcing a field for the 2013 classic yesterday that contained no major exercise of their discretion.
The only real surprises for the HK$16 million Group One feature on Sunday week were mild ones, with John Size-trained Endowing included in the field off a rating of 82 at the expense of Crackerjack, who is rated four points higher, and Tony Millard-trained Jolly Victor being named as first reserve for the race in front of a number of higher-rated horses.
"The BMW Derby is clearly two of the most exciting minutes in Hong Kong sport," said Jockey Club executive director of racing Bill Nader as the final field was revealed.
"This historic race has 'one-shot' charisma; it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the very best of our four-year-olds and for that reason the race grabs the attention like no other.
"Every owner, trainer and jockey in Hong Kong wants to be able to say they did it - they won the Derby."
While the Jockey Club's "once-in-a-lifetime" line for the Derby is gilding the lily most years, with many runners having at least run in a Derby somewhere else as three-year-olds, the slogan is almost true in the low-rating 2013 event, with only Akeed Mofeed having contested a Derby anywhere else. He finished fourth of five runners in the Irish Derby last year.
The lowest top-rated Derby runner in memory on a handicap mark of 102, nominal favourite Akeed Mofeed forms the spearhead to sophomore trainer Richard Gibson's powerful threesome, with Mizani and Gold-Fun also holding plenty of admirers for the race.
Three-time Derby winner John Moore had expected on Monday to have just two runners in Ashkiyr and Poetic Justice, but he also finished with three after the selection committee elected to include 86-rated Albiceleste, despite the Italian dual Listed winner having begun his local career just last Wednesday when fourth to Aomen.
"I didn't think he would get in with that rating, but I'm grateful to the selection committee for having the same faith in this horse as I have.
"I'd put him in the same bracket as Dan Excel last year - he's going to be a Group horse here," Moore said.
"It's just a matter of whether the Derby is too soon, but I think it will be good for the race to have a tough, natural frontrunner like this horse. If you look at his Italian wins, he was a horse who set his own speed and just kept going.
"I have him in a Class Two mile on Sunday at Sha Tin, so I'm hoping that won't take too much out of him with the Derby a week after. And I don't have a jockey yet either, but it might not be hard to find one if he wins on Sunday," Moore added.
Ten of the 14 runners will come from only four yards, with defending Derby-winning trainer John Size also sending out multiple runners in Classic Cup victor It Has To Be You and Endowing, while the 2010 Derby winner, Caspar Fownes, will saddle up Rainbow Chic and Best Show.
Me Tsui Yu-sak will send out his first Derby runner since gaining a trainer's licence in 2005, with the grey Wah May Star.