Ideal distance options are rare for Hong Kong-trained stayers but Paul O’Sullivan’s Rule Thee seems to have found a group of races at the right time and can continue his progression in the Class Three Wah Kwong Ship Management Handicap (2,200m) on Saturday at Sha Tin.
Rule Thee is by New Zealand sire Tavistock, a stallion that has been dubbed by some as “the new Zabeel”, and from a proven family of staying specialists.
While that lofty comparison to a breed-shaping great might be a stretch at this stage, there is no doubt that Tavistock is producing an abundance of stamina-laden stars.
The best known locally is of course 2015-16 Horse of the Year Werther, winner of the 2016 BMW Hong Kong Derby and Audemars Piguet QE II Cup, but also Australasian Group One winners Volkstok’n’barrell, Tarzino and Tavago.
All of those horses need at least 2,000m – and some time to develop – to show their best and while not in the same category as far as class is concerned, Rule Thee is no different.
Rule Thee, a half-brother to well-performed stablemate Star Majestic and from the same family as 2002 Singapore Derby winner Smart Bet, arrived with O’Sullivan after winning four from 10 but had only been stretched beyond a mile twice.
The result of stepping up in trip was two seconds at 2,100m and 2,200m and a similar pattern has emerged in his new home.
O’Sullivan was patient with Rule Thee first time in, limiting the four-year-old to a mile for most of his four-year-old campaign, before stepping up to 2,000m late in the season.
Rule Thee was third, beaten a head, and signalled that a step up to similar distance range in future would bring about success.
The problem for stayers in Hong Kong is that 2,000m-plus races don’t regularly appear on the programme, but now that O’Sullivan has found some for Rule Thee, the results are coming.
After two unplaced efforts at 1,800m, Rule Thee was beaten a nose by experienced handicapper Premier Champion at Happy Valley in November.
Rule Thee worked hard in what was a typically stop-start Happy Valley 2,200m race, was exposed early in the straight and was beaten by a great Joao Moreira ride.
Last start, Rule Thee got a great ride from Chad Schofield, who found a one-off spot and nice rhythm from a wide gate before getting a trail into the straight and peeling off the back of runner-up Rickfield.
Rule Thee should appreciate a switch back to Sha Tin, with the longer run to the first turn and 400m straight allowing Schofield to again find that all important rhythm for the long-striding type.
Zac Purton looks set for a big day on Saturday as he looks to push his jockeys’ championship hopes and the barrier draws have been kind on a couple of his best chances.
Pick Number One is likely to start one of the shortest-priced favourites of the day after drawing gate three in a Class Three dirt sprint, while Turin Redstar came up barrier one on the C + 3 course in a 1,400m Class Three.
The draw wasn’t as advantageous for last start winner Lean Perfection (barrier nine) as he steps up to 1,200m or first-starter Beauty Energy, who jumps from three in a straight race.
In the opening race of the day, Kwaichung Brothers (Karis Teetan) drops back in grade and comes up with barrier one in the Class Five Hong Kong Ship Owners Association Handicap (1,400m).
Kwaichung Brothers started the season in Class Five and took just two starts to win his way back out again before running another nice race in Class Four.
With the ideal draw Kwaichung Brothers looks well placed to win again against a weak field.