A TOTAL of 23 Classic hopefuls were entered for the March 7 running of the Hongkong Derby at the first stage yesterday. Exciting Irish import Right Way, who scored a thrilling all-the-way win in the San Miguel Silver Tankard at Sha Tin on Sunday is the early favourite for the richest domestic race on the calendar. Trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee, who has a love affair with the Derby, was still brimming over with confidence last night. ''The horse came out of Sunday's race very well and he is right on course for the Derby,'' Kan said. ''He has a lot of pace but he also has real fighting qualities and I am sure he will get the 1,800 metres.'' Deerfield, whose Derby plans received a severe knock early in the season, is now on the comeback trail but everything will depend on just how he goes in the next three weeks or so. Regular rider Brent Thomson has no doubts that Right Way at this stage is the one to beat. ''He's come on in leaps and bounds and he will have an obvious advantage over Deerfield in that he has had the benefit of some really top-class runs,'' he said. The first entries reveal a lot of obvious no-hopers who would not even qualify for the Blue Riband event. But Patrick Biancone's Helene Star will capture plenty of attention on his excellent form to date, although that has been over sprint trips. Meanwhile, the Jockey Club have reopened entries for the first planned griffin race of the season on January 25. They were forced to abandon the first race on the calendar on June 10 but are optimistic that the January 25 race will go ahead.