After last Sunday’s Hong Kong Classic Mile trainer John Moore warned “there is a lot of water to go under the bridge” with regards to BMW Hong Kong Derby preparations and this week has already proven pivotal to the shape of the big race on March 18.
Nothingilikemore’s dominant Classic Mile performance established an early Derby favourite for many, before his stablemate Insayshable was ruled out for four months with a fractured left hind splint bone.
The injury is not expected to be career-threatening with trainer John Size saying he was looking forward to the return of his Irish import.
“He is a promising horse and I think he will be a nice five-year-old,” Size said.
On Friday, the Tony Cruz-trained Doctor Geoff got his Derby prep back on track at the barrier trials, jockey Brett Prebble keeping the budding stayer on the straight and narrow following a wayward display last start.
Doctor Geoff had been sent back to trial by stewards after veering off course under hard riding by Karis Teetan when a fast-finishing third behind Time To Celebrate three weeks ago.
Doctor Geoff trialled well on the dirt but Cruz said he would have preferred his horse had run in last week’s Classic Mile.
“He shouldn’t have had to trial at all, he was running out because the jockey hit him – if there had been a horse there on his outside the jockey would have been suspended,” Cruz said. “Anyway, the horse is doing well.”
Sunday’s 1,800m Class Two features five four-year-olds including Cheerful Giggles and Rattan, all of whom could have qualified to run in the Classic Mile and the race will again reshape Derby conversations.
Trainer Michael Freedman had initially entered Cheerful Giggles for the Classic Mile but elected to skip the race and put blinkers on his horse second-up after a sound debut over 1,400m on New Year’s Day.
“Against those high-class horses over a mile he would probably have run a nice race but I don’t think he would have been competitive as a winning chance,” Freedman said. “It’s a jump from 1,400m to 1,800m but he will be better suited at the distance.”
Cheerful Giggles wore blinkers in his final three starts in Australia, including a career-best second behind Ruthven in the 2017 Queensland Derby and Freedman had always envisaged the headgear going back on at some stage.
“It was just a matter of whether it was this run or next,” he said. “I went back and looked at his runs with the blinkers on and his run behind Ruthven was pretty good, he raced wide and still ran on. He seems to be a horse that focuses a lot more in blinkers.”
Having dodged the horses that are seen as the main Derby contenders last weekend, Freedman admits today’s race looms as an important test of his horse’s big-race credentials.
“Realistically, barring bad luck, he needs to be very competitive and he also needs to get his rating up from 86 to ensure he gets into the Derby,” Freedman said. “I haven’t been disappointed with him, his first-up run was good, but I think if he is going to be a factor in the Derby he needs to start showing he belongs there.”
Prebble sticks with Cheerful Giggles and said the biggest difference blinkers would make to the horse is at the start.
“He is quite a laid-back customer so having them on isn’t going to make him faster, because he is a stayer, but it might help him being a bit more focused and positive from the gate,” Prebble said. “Hopefully it means he won’t come out of the barriers like a two-mile horse or a jumper, they might just make him a little bit sharper.”