This season, Derek Leung Ka-chun has already captured a maiden Group One, represented Hong Kong in the International Jockeys’ Championship and is on track to win a second straight Tony Cruz Award.
As if that wasn’t enough, Leung has been confirmed as the rider for Classic Emperor when the dirt specialist travels to Dubai this month and the rising star heads to Sha Tin on Sunday with a strong book of rides that includes leading Group Three Centenary Vase chance Ruthven and likely favourite Turin Redstar.
“Things are going well,” Leung said in possibly the understatement of the season. “Classic Emperor will be the first Hong Kong-trained horse I have ridden overseas, so that is an honour, and I have some good chances on Sunday.”
Classic Emperor will depart on February 8 and contest a 95-105 ratings band handicap over 1,600m on February 22, with the meeting simulcast by the Jockey Club.
“I think he is good enough, he is in excellent form and he will handle the left-hand turn as well,” Leung said. “The only thing we can’t be sure of is if he handles the surface over there.”
Leung has long been part of John Moore’s big-race rotation but this term has been elevated from a supporting role to retaining rides on genuine chances like 2017 Group One Hong Kong Mile winner Beauty Generation.
Now the 29-year-old takes over from Alexis Badel on Ruthven as the BMW Hong Kong Derby-bound Australian import steps up to a more suitable 1,800m with a light weight in the feature race.
“Looking at his overseas form, he is obviously a very classy horse and he keeps improving,” Leung said of the 2017 Queensland Derby winner. “He is a colt and he is getting fitter with each run. Last start he went too quickly and couldn’t finish, but maybe this time we will ride him a bit quieter and see how he closes.”
Turin Redstar provided one of the worst beats of the term for favourite backers last start when jockey Zac Purton box-seated from a low draw in the run but then found himself stuck behind a wall of horses late.
“He was unlucky – he didn’t get clear until the last few strides,” Leung said. “We have barrier one again, so we just have to hope there are no traffic jams for him this time. There wasn’t much Zac could do differently last time, you can’t jump over the horses in front of you.”
Leung rode Turin Redstar first-up when the four-year-old found the line over 1,200m and expects a strong showing over 1,400m in the Class Three Sam Shing Handicap.
“I’ve ridden him a lot in trials and in the mornings as well. Last start didn’t tell us much but I think this is his best distance for now,” he said.
Dances With Dragon, one of Leung’s two rides for So, caught the eye when third behind progressive sprinter Hot King Prawn first-up but was a touch flat footed over 1,200m second up when finishing unplaced as favourite two weekends ago.
“He finished 10th but I think the run was better than it looks on paper, if you look at the run he was really picking up the last 100m. He just needs more ground,” Leung said
A step up to 1,400m for the Class Two Po Tin Handicap provides Dances With Dragon, a Group One winner over a mile in New Zealand, an opportunity to get closer to his optimum trip.
“We have barrier three on the C course as well and a light weight but we have to remember these Class Two races are very competitive, there are some nice horses there,” he said.
Another one video watchers will have noted as “better than it looks on paper” is Paul O’Sullivan’s Sonic Fighter, who contests the Class Four Yan Oi Tong Cup (1,400m).
Sonic Fighter was eighth second up after an encouraging debut but was beaten just a length-and-a-half after sitting three-wide with no cover.
“It wasn’t a bad run, he was caught wide from the bad barrier but we have drawn 14 again, so we have to see what the trainer wants to do,” Leung said.