So the form out of the 2017 BMW Hong Kong Derby looked good... but Derby form always looks good, right?
The fanfare and magic of the Derby has a way of turning the winner into a hero, but the form doesn’t always measure up when put to the test.
The protective bubble that is the four-year-old series has a way of building unwarranted reputations, and stepping out to take on older, tougher competitors can make bubbles burst.
Well, Rapper Dragon’s gritty Group Two win and a four-year-old tierce in the 2,200m Class Two yesterday at Sha Tin gave an early indication that the class of 2017 is indeed a stellar crop.
There was no bubble-bursting and even four-year-old sprinter Mr Stunning broke through at his first try at Group level, adding to the changing of the guard vibe.
If there were any real question marks, they surrounded Rapper Dragon, but more pointedly, there was some doubt about the runners he beat home in the Derby three weeks earlier.
When Rapper Dragon swept through the four-year-old series he made history as the first horse to do so, but he was in unchartered territory again by taking on seasoned rivals in the Chairman’s Trophy.
Each of John Moore’s previous Derby winners had made their Derby curtain call in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup – usually a break of six weeks – and here was Rapper Dragon three weeks after a big win.
Only Designs On Rome (2014) and Werther (2016) have managed the feat of winning both the Derby and QE II in the same year for Moore – it’s tough to do – and previously only two champions, Vengeance Of Rain (2005) and Ambitious Dragon (2010), had completed the double.
So on a three-week back up after a supposed “grand final”, Rapper Dragon was entitled to be vulnerable, even with a five-pound advantage that seems to always play bigger than it looks on paper.
Rapper Dragon was superb, running as an odds-on favourite should, holding off the Hong Kong Mile winner Beauty Only.
Is Rapper Dragon Horse of the Year already after yesterday? Helene Paragon has won two Group Ones, but the history-making sweep of the four-year series probably swings it Rapper Dragon’s way.
No matter, a win in the Group One Champions Mile one month from now can confirm it and Rapper Dragon looks a nominal favourite for the HK$16 million race, even with a return to weight-for-age conditions.
Often the Derby can produce a good winner, or top two, but the field lacks substance. Scratch the surface of the 2014 Designs On Rome-Able Friend classic, for instance, and there’s not much there in the way of depth.
Vice versa, take 2012 winner Fay Fay, a horse that couldn’t win again in Hong Kong, but behind him were future Group One winners Dan Excel, Military Attack, Dominant and Liberator.
The 2017 Derby seems to have both, a transcendent talent as winner plus a strong supporting cast, a beaten group that was showcased in the 2,200m Class Two.
Moore’s Derby third pacegetter Beauty Generation narrowly beating home stablemate Eagle Way, with the John Size-trained Dinozzo third, was almost as good a reference for the overall strength of the race as Rapper Dragon’s win.
Helene Charisma’s fifth was encouraging as well, but the French import’s tendency to hang under pressure might be indicative of a horse feeling the effects of a Sha Tin surface more akin to concrete, at least compared to the lush grass cushion of Saint-Cloud.
Still, the rain that often arrives in time for the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial would offer Helene Charisma sweet relief and perhaps bring the Group One winner into reckoning.
If Rapper Dragon clinches Horse of the Year, as expected, it would mean his trainer Moore has prepared five winners in a row.
It is interesting to note that by this time last year Moore had already purchased Rapper Dragon and Beauty Generation.
Although the search has already begun for the 2018 Derby hero, Moore says there hasn’t been a Derby purchase made out of the Australian autumn, yet.
“We’re looking, and we are ready to buy what is available,” Moore said on Sunday. “But let’s enjoy what we have now, this is great for Hong Kong racing.”