Progressive stayer Ho Ho Khan booked a ticket to the Hong Kong Derby on Sunday, and he will not be there just making up the numbers if his impressive victory in the Class Two New Street Handicap is anything to go by.
The 1,800m contest had four Derby hopefuls, a key race for those who are missing the Classic Mile but still hope to force their way into the remaining two events of the four-year-old series.
Ho Ho Khan (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) certainly did that, coming from near the tail of the field to swoop over the top of his rivals in stylish fashion to secure his third straight victory and be virtually assured of a run in March’s HK$18 million feature.
Two useful 4yo's edge a step closer to the BMW Hong Kong Derby in R3: David Hall's Ho Ho Khan, relishing a strong pace under Vincent Ho, takes the step up to Class 2 in style. Helene Leadingstar is an honest second but 1.7 favourite Nicconi Express fades into fifth. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/M4JYSrwatA— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 20, 2019
“He’ll run in the Classic Cup and then the Derby. He’ll have the rating after today and his preparation has been planned for it. He had to win today to get his rating up a bit more but he’ll be there for sure now,” Hall said.
“Obviously it was nice to see him do what he did today to give that confidence that you’re not going there to make the numbers up.
“It does look a strong year – there are a lot of very nice horses and the form hasn’t really come out yet. The Classic Mile is going to tell us a lot.
“He took a little bit more of a step today, he won quite softly without being punished and the extra 200m – he’ll be all over that. It’s something to look forward to, he’s a good little find.”
While Ho Ho Khan established his Derby credentials, Tony Cruz’s Helene Leadingstar showed why he was so highly rated in Australia.
The gelding, who won the Group One South Australian Derby, had only been fair in his first two Hong Kong starts, but with the step-up in trip, he showed he is a force to be reckoned with, finishing second.
The other two Derby entrants were less impressive though, odds-on favourite Nicconi Express looked to feel the pinch late, fading to fifth to be beaten by three-and-a-half lengths, while Classic Beauty never fired a shot in eighth.
Despite the boom surrounding some of his rivals, Hall went into the race confident Ho Ho Khan would acquit himself well.
“He has trained on beautifully since his two wins and we were really happy with the horse going into the race,” he said.
“No one could measure how much mine is improving, no one could measure how much Nicconi Express was going to improve – all we could do was turn up and be ready for the fight, and we were, and he certainly delivered today.”
Ho Ho Khan has really come along in leaps and bounds this campaign and the trainer has been pleased with his development.
“He’d never really disappointed. His first couple of trials – I think Joao Moreira rode him one morning and said ‘he’s a bit small and he’s not this and he’s not that’ and that dented our confidence a little bit,” Hall said.
“But ever since then he’s hasn’t looked back. He showed he definitely had a good set of lungs and he was going to need a bit of distance but he’s always been very willing at home and very good in the mornings.
“When you get to this level and you talk about derbies, you need to see it on race day, so to see him do that today was really good.”