Forget this weekend’s antiquated interport race – where the Macau runners are setting themselves up to be lapped again – and the eclectic mix of dirt, turf and straight racing that awaits at Sha Tin.
All eyes are now on the BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 15 – the race every Hong Kong owner wants to win. They will happily outlay more than the HK$10.44 million first prize just to have a runner in the “once-in-a-lifetime” classic.
It’s the race which sees every horse that has shown a glimmer of form over a trip bought for 10 times the price it is worth, leaving the original owners cashed up and the new owners praying it measures up. Otherwise, it could be a long wait until they are in the winner’s circle after a Happy Valley Class Three over 2,200m.
It’s all in the name of getting their face on the big screen in the Derby afterglow … and their hands on that big trophy, too.
With all that in mind, it must hurt to be owner Siu Pak-kwan as he prepares to watch the Derby without a runner. Sure, most owners will be on the sidelines come Sunday week, but given the effort – and the money – he’s invested this year, it must be gut-wrenching.
The Siu family is one of the most prolific in Hong Kong racing, with the family’s red-and-black stripes – a slightly different variation for each family member – carried by a number of well-known performers.
Eldest son Edmond Siu Kim-ping owns the likes of Rainbow Chic, Bubble Chic and Vanilla, younger son Martin Siu Kim-sun races Frederick Engels, Ashkiyr and Wednesday night’s winner Joyeux, and daughter Connie Siu Kim-ying, although off the radar at the moment, owned Jockey Club Mile winner Destined For Glory.
But it is the patriarch – a property, finance and manufacturing tycoon – who leads from the front, having raced 17 horses in Hong Kong, including Irian, Silver Grecian and Familists.
A number had looked Derby material but for one reason or the other didn’t make the race, and he has only had two representatives – 2003 runner-up Self Flit, who he co-owned with Tony Cheung Tze-tung, and Irian, seventh to Super Satin in 2010.
In fact, the family hasn’t had great Derby memories. French Derby runner-up Bubble Chic was being aimed at the 2012 Derby but quarantine complications ensured he didn’t make the racetrack until six months after Fay Fay took the honours.
And last year, Australian Derby bridesmaid Vanilla failed to settle in, produced some spectacularly wild pre-race antics at his prep runs and in the end wasn’t paid up.
Clearly, Siu Pak-kwan had decided (or his feng shui master advised him) 2015 was his year, the time for his Derby hoodoo to end once and for all. He brought in three highly rated Private Purchases – one last season, two early this season – all with a Derby aim.
Former Italian galloper Arpinati first stepped out in June and showed enough in two starts to make racing editor Alan Aitken’s 10 to follow at the start of this term. He arrived as a Group Three winner and Group One placegetter in Italy, although somewhat quirky – his penchant for missing the start was set in stone there.
Australian import Savvy Nature, formerly trained by Godolphin’s man down under John O’Shea, was the most experienced of the trio. A winner of the Group Three Spring Stakes (1,600m) and the Group Two Moonee Valley Vase (2,040m) as a spring three-year-old, he somewhat disappointed in the autumn with dour fourths in the Rosehill Guineas (2,000m) and the Australian Derby (2,400m). He arrived on a rating of 90 and, as long as he maintained that mark, was almost certainly guaranteed a run.
Gonna Run was a bit more rushed, having had a setback earlier in the season. The French import won his first three starts at Deauville, Chantilly and Longchamp, followed by a fifth in the Prix Du Jockey Club over 2,100m behind The Grey Gatsby.
With as strong a hand as any owner, surely one of them would make the race. Or perhaps not.
Arpinati was the first to fall by the wayside. His rating of 96 would comfortably get him into the race, but two runs at a mile – a fourth in the Classic Mile and a Class Two second to potential superstar Luger – gave the impression he found the 1,600m a tad too far, let alone 2,000m.
He runs in this weekend’s Group Three Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1,400m), where he will deservedly be near the head of the market.
Gonna Run was withdrawn last week, the rushed campaign getting the better of him, and he will get his chance in easier races.
That left Savvy Nature, who had shown improvement at his third start when eighth in the Classic Cup but still seemed to be acclimatising.
In the end, he was one of four horses stuck on a rating of 88, vying for three positions. Golden Sleep, Obliterator and Anticipation took the three spots – Savvy Nature will miss out unless one of his rivals is withdrawn in the next 10 days.
And so the Derby dream, at this stage, is over, cruelled by bad luck, unsuitable horses and a Jockey Club coin-flip.
To rub salt into the wounds, one of the likely favourites – Redkirk Warrior – is a first throw at the stumps for owner Jenny Tam Yuk-ching. Her one previous foray into ownership was retired unraced last season. Redkirk Warrior is her first Private Purchase – and she’s struck gold.
That’s part of the allure of the Derby, and of racing in general – there are no guarantees, it’s just one big lottery. One in which Siu Pak-kwan unfortunately holds a losing ticket.