Trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing might have found his BMW Hong Kong Derby contender for this season after promising youngster Playa Del Puente saluted at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
The three-year-old had impressed in Ireland, winning three of his four starts (including one at Listed level) before making the move to Sha Tin, and he’d shown flashes of his ability at his first two runs in his new home.
It all came together in the Class Two Green Luck Handicap (1,650m), with Playa Del Puente rolling straight to the front under Joao Moreira and he was never headed, holding off Happy Dragon and favourite Not Usual Talent to prevail by three lengths.
The gelding was bought with the four-year-old series in mind and he seems right on track for it.
“Hopefully [he’s a Derby horse], fingers crossed,” said Shum, who leads the championship with 14 winners this season. “I’m expecting a lot from him this year. He’s improving and improving.
“In his first start, he finished really well in the last 400m – it was the fastest time of the race. Last time Karis tried to find cover but he couldn’t, so he went early. He learned a really good lesson.
“Joao asked for the ride [on Wednesday night], I was happy for him to ride the horse. I knew Not Usual Talent would be hard to beat, but with 15 pounds difference, I thought he would run well. He did – he’s really improving.”
The win was the first of a double for Moreira, who also tasted success aboard Peter Ho Leung’s in-form Le Terroir.
After just a fair start to his career (he was winless after 10 starts) the gelding has really hit his straps in the last six months, rattling off four victories from his past five runs.
Now a four-year-old, it looks as though Le Terroir can continue to climb up the ratings.
“He improved a lot after his last run – physically and mentally. He put on 26 pounds – which I didn’t expect. After the last one, his mind is open – he wants to race,” said Ho, who also enjoyed a win with Very Rich Man.
“Luckily he had a good draw and he showed his ability. He still had a couple of lengths in hand.
“I hope we can stay in the class again, but it depends on the handicapper. It would be unfair for the owner if they put him up – you can’t expect him just to have two runs [in Class Three] and put him up to Class Two.”
The shock of the night came in the last race when Speedy King just stuck his nose in front of the fast-finishing Super Turbo at $51.50 in the Class Two Ivictory Handicap (1,200m).
The pace was hot early when Speed Vision and odds-on favourite Yee Cheong Baby went toe-to-toe, setting it up for a horse running on.
It suited the Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained Speedy King perfectly with Alberto Sanna lifting him over the line.
“Incredible. He’s an incredible horse – so honest,” a beaming Yiu said afterwards.
“I said to the jockey ‘don’t underestimate him, even if he’s in fourth or fifth position, just take your time, he’ll run for you’.
“He’s had seven wins now and I think four or five of them have been by a small margin – he just knows how to win.”
It completed a double for the Yiu-Sanna combination after they won with After Me earlier in the night.
Chris So Wai-yin was the other trainer to leave with a double from the card as Wonderful Tiger (Karis Teetan) and Happy Time (Zac Purton) scored.
Meanwhile, Dylan Mo Hin-tung copped a two-meeting suspension and a HK$10,000 (US$1,275) fine for his win aboard Very Rich Man in the fifth race.