Brazilian import Butterfield flashed his Hong Kong Derby credentials with a tough victory in the Class Two Azalea Handicap (1,800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Danny Shum Chap-shing’s galloper has an interesting background – he was the dominant horse in his home country when known as Halston, winning the triple crown before being disqualified from the middle leg because of a failed drug test.
It’s the second horse from Brazil owner Yue Yun-hing has with Shum – the honest Harmony Victory won two legs of the triple crown in 2017 – and he is starting to hit his straps after a slow start to his Hong Kong career.
Butterfield finished at the tail of the field in his first two starts over unsuitable distances, but he has improved as he has stepped up in trip.
On Sunday, he stepped out over 1,800m for the first time and showed what he is capable of, beating a host of other potential four-year-old series contenders.
Jockey Grant van Niekerk gave the gelding a perfect run in transit, sitting in the box-seat behind early leader Classic Beauty, before peeling out and running strongly to the line.
Butterfield held off fellow Derby entrant Columbus County with High Rev coming third after backing up from Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting. Favourite Super Oasis, another four-year-old, was fourth.
Shum was delighted with the performance.
“He ran well – he got the slow pace, he drew one, everything went perfectly to plan,” he said.
“He was the best horse in Brazil – he wasn’t hugely expensive but he is a nice horse.
“I’m not sure if we’ll go to the Classic Cup, I have to see how he pulls up and then talk to the owner. I think he’ll have enough points to get into the Derby, we might go straight there instead.”
Van Niekerk was also impressed.
“He ran a really good race. He gave me that feel when I rode him at Happy Valley two starts back – he is a horse with potential. He is still improving,” he said.
“He enjoyed the step up in trip. He is a horse that is still learning about Hong Kong racing but I think he’ll be a good ride in the Derby.”
It was the second winner of the day for the jockey-trainer-owner combination after Clear Choice took out the Class Three Lily Handicap (1,650m) on the dirt.
It was the second straight win for the six-year-old, who was crunched in betting late, “brown lamped” into $11.
“He actually worked really well with me during the week, so I told Danny that if he brings his work to the track, he’d have a good chance,” Van Niekerk said.
“The step up in class was a bit of a concern, but he proved today that he is competitive enough.”
Van Niekerk’s day ended on a slightly sour note after he was hit with a two-meeting suspension and HK$60,000 fine for careless riding aboard Baltic Whisper in the eighth race.