Ho Ho Khan is an underdog in more ways than one heading into Sunday’s HK$10 million Classic Cup (1,800m) but that doesn’t faze his trainer David Hall, who says he is “looking forward to seeing how much the little fella has got”.
The colt has hardly put a foot wrong while stringing together three consecutive wins but is attracting far less fanfare than the likes of Dark Dream and Furore after arriving from New Zealand without the success or price tag of some of his rivals.
“He’s been great, he’s not one of the big highlight Derby purchases, he’s a much cheaper horse than a few of his competitors but he’s slowly stepped up each time with good, solid wins,” Hall said.
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’s a great little horse, he’s good to train, he’s taken it all before him and he’s in good shape. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can take another step, obviously he has to.”
While over half of Sunday’s field are coming out of the first leg of the four-year-old series – the Classic Mile – Ho Ho Khan’s three wins have all been at 1,800m and Hall says his preparation has been “perfect”.
“I think his preparation is one that I haven’t had to rush, he’s got the miles in his legs and he is certainly very ready for the 1,800m and I think he will be even better in the 2,000m [of the Derby],” Hall said.
“I’ve got no doubt about that but I think there are a lot of horses that are going to handle the distance, it won’t be a problem for Dark Dream or Furore.”
Regular jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu made the decision during the week to take the ride on Ka Ying Star over Ho Ho Khan, however the in-form Silvestre de Sousa has stepped up to fill the void after losing the ride on Dark Dream to Zac Purton.
“Vincent decided to go with the other horse, he might think he might have a bit more class but sometimes the sleeper can wake up,” Hall said.
Hall takes a two-pronged attack into Sunday’s features, with Little Giant lining up in the Group One Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m).
The six-year-old has performed admirably in two recent Group One runs after injuries restricted him to just three starts in his first two seasons in Hong Kong, however Hall is unsure how much Little Giant has left to give.
“His last couple of runs he’s been really pressured early and asked to do something that is out of his comfort zone in a level of racing which he’s never taken on before,” Hall said.
“Obviously it doesn’t get any easier for him now and it’s hard to judge how much those two races have taken out of him.
“Probably in the back of my mind I think now that he’s had a couple of tough runs against the big boys, he might be better when he’s had a break and comes back and starts again.”
In a perfect representation of the merry-go-round that is the Hong Kong riding ranks, Ho will ride Little Giant for the first time with Zac Purton jumping off to remain with Beauty Generation.
Mr Stunning records back-to-back wins in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint under @KarisTeetan, beating last year's second DB Pin. He joins #HKIR legends Silent Witness, Sacred Kingdom and Lord Kanaloa as a dual winner #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/dSjVHTNO5J— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 9, 2018
“Vincent is riding extremely confidently this season, I’ve had a bit of success with him and he’s won Group races for me before, so I’m pretty happy to put him on,” Hall said.
“Little Giant will be ridden patiently on Sunday and we will see if the 1,400m is more of his go, which I think it is.”
While there are those that believe the step back to 1,400m could leave champion miler Beauty Generation vulnerable, Hall is not a subscriber to that theory.
“If you’re labelling him the best horse in the world, 1,400m or 1,600m is probably not going to matter too much. He’s obviously still going to be the benchmark,” he said.