The Hong Kong Derby picture will become clearer this Sunday with trainer Richard Gibson rolling out his key hope in the lucrative race.
Highly rated English import Gold Chest will make his Hong Kong debut in the Class Two Lukfook Jewellery Cup (1,400m) among a host of other Derby hopefuls.
The lightly raced three-year-old won both of his starts in England, including a win in Listed company at Newmarket before making his way to Gibson’s stable in September.
Having trialled twice at Sha Tin since his arrival, Gold Chest has caught the eye of many, including jockey Alexis Badel who rode the horse in the trials.
“He looks ready to race, he is a very easy horse, very quiet,” he said. “He doesn’t do too much in the mornings, but it is just enough to keep going.”
After being sold earlier this year, Gold Chest comes with big expectations following the high praise from his former trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam who said she was targeting the up-and-coming horse at Australia’s premier weight-for-age event, the Cox Plate, before being sold.
Badel, who is well aware of the lofty expectations, said he was the kind of horse that would adapt to Hong Kong conditions.
“I hope he is going to be fit enough, because he is a good horse and there are a lot of expectations around him so I hope he can respond well,” he said.
“Hong Kong will suit him for sure, but I am just hoping it does this time around. So far he gives me a really good feel so it will be a test of whether or not he is fit enough.”
Gibson, however, was more reserved in his appraisal of the gelding, saying it had been several months between races and would be better for the hit-out.
“Like all good horses with their first time out, you’d just like to see them finish strongly then we can go from there,” he said.
“He has trialled fine, for all unraced horses from Europe it is a very long time between races, July to mid-December.”
Rival trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen will also play a strong part in the Derby landscape with the second-year trainer debuting two key chances in Heavenly Thought and Furore alongside Tony Cruz’s King Of Hearts.
Lor’s duo come on the back of Dark Dream’s fast-finishing third when first-up last week behind seasoned galloper Insayshable.
The first starters will not find it easy on Sunday, however, with the promising John Size-trained Conte returning after falling just short in Class One company last month.
The son of Starcraft has won five of his seven starts in Hong Kong and will prove tough to go past with Joao Moreira riding.
Trainer Tony Millard will also be chasing his 600th winner in Hong Kong with last-start winner World Record, who has come from last twice this season to win under jockey Grant van Niekerk.