Jockey Neil Callan believes California Whip has the makings of a top-class miler but with a rating of 90 and being four years of age, there’s only one race that matters this season; the BMW Hong Kong Derby in March.
And next stop on the Derby path for the Tony Cruz-trained talent is a competitive 1,400m Class Two at Sha Tin, where the American-bred colt out of England faces some decent benchmarks.
“Everybody wants to win the Derby so of course that is the route the owners will probably take,” Callan said of the 2,000m race on March 19.
“He feels like a miler, with so much tactical speed, but you never know how they can progress. Different types of horses win the Derby too, they just need to peak on the right day. Luger showed that, he was a miler, but he was just too good for them.”
California Whip has already taken an unconventional Derby path, dropping back to 1,200m on the dirt to notch a scintillating victory in slick time just over two weeks ago.
“That win served its purpose and he got the ratings points, but if he gets to the level I expect him to there won’t be anymore dirt options for him,” Callan said. “I think it was more just a sign of how much class he has that he was able to win like that on the dirt.”
The easy win gave Cruz’s horse eight points and an almost guaranteed start in the Derby, but obviously the Britannia Stakes placegetter needs to get more racing into his legs first.
And before California Whip scales the Derby heights, the flashy chestnut faces a field that includes a fellow four-year-old that didn’t measure up in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, Western Express (Joao Moreira).
Western Express’ trainer John Size admitted after the Classic Mile that the level of opposition was too much, too soon for a horse having just its sixth race start.
Yet Moreira believes Western Express is headed to the upper echelons of the mile ranks too, in time, and the Brazilian jockey is bullish about his chances of beating California Whip.
“It’s just a matter of time before he starts measuring up to the big boys – he was one of the least experienced horses in the Classic Mile,” Moreira said.
“Even though I think he is a miler and he is dropping back in distance, he is coming back to Class Two and I’m really confident.”
Western Express was ridden by Ryan Moore in the Classic Mile but Moreira jumps back on having finished third aboard the horse two starts back, a neck away from Beauty Generation.
“The draw beat us that day, and my horse was hanging and I couldn’t get him to go straight in the finish,” Moreira said. “I know I was getting 12 pounds off Beauty Generation but I still think that is good form for this.”
Western Express gets five pounds off California Whip on Sunday as well, but didn’t get any help with the barrier draw, with Moreira left to navigate from gate nine and Callan to jump from barrier one on the C course.
This isn’t a two-horse race though, the John Moore-trained Midnight Rattler (Brett Prebble) will have his supporters after scoring an upset win on January 1 over classy types Invincible Dragon and Mr Stunning, both of whom won on Monday.
“Those form lines are pretty strong,” Prebble said. “Of course that was a hard run 1,200m, but I think 1,400m will be fine as long as we can get some cover from the gate, as he can get a little bit revvy. He just needs a chance to rest a little bit in the run, but he certainly wasn’t weak the other day on the line.”