Grandly named French three-year-old The Golden Age offered the first salvo from leading trainer Tony Cruz in the 2018 BMW Hong Kong Derby battle when he returned from his summer break with a little more maturity and a little less manhood for a breakthrough Happy Valley win.

A winner of two from four in France as a juvenile named Konstrastat, he was a Group Three winner and tried in a Group One but none of that prepared him for his next home at Sha Tin.

Firm tracks and enclosed spaces – it’s a culture shock for the French horses used to plenty of space and soft surfaces – but Cruz was able to adapt California Memory to Hong Kong and has high hopes for The Golden Age.

“When he came here he was two-year-old, very lightly raced. I rode in France when I was a jockey and I can tell you the style of racing there is so completely different to Hong Kong,” said Cruz.

“The French horses come here and they just don’t have a clue, so it takes more time. I hardly dared to run him last season. He was nervous, he was looking around himself all the time at the other horses and he was as green as grass. It is a big disadvantage for these babies coming to Hong Kong.”

Especially when The Golden Age came in with a high rating of 88 that put him straight into tough company in Class Two. But a gelding operation and a summer on his back have helped to begin the transformation that led to a comfortable all-the-way barrier trial win recently and a similar performance first-up at 1,650m in Class Two.

Jockey Matthew Chadwick rolled straight out to dictate the lead as expected and The Golden Age had enough in hand late to fend off a solid challenge from Sichuan Dar.

“He is improving and I think it’s a good sign that he has been able to perform right away coming back from the break,” Cruz said.

“But he is still fairly immature even now and has growing to do. So I will take my time with him and try to keep his races spaced at this stage, but the aim is to have him running in the good four-year-old races, the Classic Mile, Classic Cup and Derby. How he will get there we will work out as we go.

“The horses train me to train them – if he needs to be pushed, he will tell me and if he needs something else then he’ll tell me that too. But he’s a rising star, full of potential.”