Expensive import Dark Dream franked his title as a top-end middle distance galloper at Sha Tin on Sunday, albeit three weeks too late for the Hong Kong Derby.
The 2018 Group One Queensland Derby (2,200m) winner came to Hong Kong with a A$2 million-plus price tag and high expectations for last month’s Derby, but instead delivered in the Class One Harlech Handicap (2,000m) – breaking a 19-year-old class record.
The four-year-old put a slew of fellow beaten Derby horses to the sword, including $2.6 favourite Waikuku, after jockey Zac Purton turned the 2,000m event into a true staying test, peeling out three-wide at the 600m mark.
Stopping the clock at 1:59.66 on Sunday, Dark Dream posted the third-fastest time over the 2,000m trip at Sha Tin, putting to bed any fears the horse could not perform on dry tracks.
“Obviously he has run the time on the clock but there were a few races out there where the time seemed a little bit faster than the way the race was run, that’s because there was a very strong wind out there,” Purton said.
“The time was good and I think it was important that he has gone out there and performed on a dry track.”
After securing the ride for February’s Classic Cup (1,800m), Purton maintained the horse had not reached his peak, but believes he still has even more to give after the win.
“He is getting there, I don’t think we have seen the best of him,” he said.
“I know I keep saying it but he gives me that feel and impression. The more he races the better he will get and I think we will see a better horse next season.”
Trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen said he would try to resist the temptation to put blinkers on the two-time winner in an attempt to make him focus more during races.
The second year trainer said he hoped to gain a run in the Group One QE II Cup (2,000m).
“Today he jumped better than last time and I think everyone knew because I had him entered for the QE II Cup he needed to get more [rating] points,” he said. “He did that so I hope he gains a start in that race.”
While Purton will ride the likely favourite in Exultant, the champion jockey said Dark Dream was worthy of a place in what is set to be a red-hot field, with a strong team of Japanese raiders expected to race.
“He deserves to take his place, he is not going to disgrace himself there,” he said.
While wins on Beauty Generation and Dark Dream headlined Purton’s day, he was also able to salute on the Benno Yung Tin-pang-trained Win Win and Francis Lui Kin-wai’s Noble Steed with one of the rides of the day.