Fashion has moved away from the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) as a Hong Kong Derby guide but the John Moore-trained Ruthven can put it back in the spotlight at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The last Centenary Vase winner to run in the Derby was John Size-trained Plastic Polymer in 2007, and he finished 11th on the big day, but a few years earlier it produced better results.
In 2001, Industrial Pioneer won the Vase in good style and later took out the Derby and the Group Three was also part of the triumphant march to Derby day by Vengeance Of Rain in 2005.
In those days, the race was run at 2,000m and, perhaps more importantly, there was no Classic Cup as the second leg of the four-year-old series we have now.
So the Derby runners needed to find suitable assignments in open age company between the Classic Mile and the Derby and the Vase fit that bill in terms of conditions and timing.
Its importance has waned since the Classic Cup was inaugurated and Moore has really been the only trainer to use the Vase for his four-year-olds. Jacobee ran third in it before finishing fourth in the Derby in 2011 and last year Helene Charisma finished seventh as favourite in this race before his fifth in the Derby.
Sunday’s small field offers the intrigue of Moore’s four-year-olds Ruthven (Derek Leung Ka-chun) and Rivet under light weights taking on their elders but also the prospect of tactical pacing.
Ruthven went too fast leading the Classic Mile last time but is a possible leader again along with the seven-year-old Horse Of Fortune. Any other leader would be a surprise and a more measured on-pace ride for Ruthven gives the Queensland Derby winner an excellent chance to lay out his Derby credentials.
His first run here was quite good without much to help him in the shape of the race behind Kingsfield, before his overzealous second run. He is fitter now, this is getting to his distance and this looks his chance to break through.
While his Queensland Derby was not a great race in itself, the win was full of authority and the real positive for Ruthven on his arrival here was that his career in Australia suggested he still had more upside. He needs that improvement if he is to go on and win a Derby but he looks good enough to be the horse to beat.
His danger looks the Size-trained Dinozzo (Joao Moreira) backing up from Wednesday night’s win at Happy Valley over 1,650m. His record shows he is at his best at 1,800m and, in this company, he may not get too far off the speed.