Fires burned on the hills opposite Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday but Golden Sixty lit his own on the track as he torched his Classic Cup [1,800m] rivals in a breathtaking blitz.
After contracting a fever two weeks ago, question marks surrounded the four-year-old heading into the HK$10 million race, but he quickly put them to bed in the space of 100m, dashing clear halfway up the Sha Tin straight to stake his claim for Derby favouritism in a month’s time.
After taking out both the Classic Mile and Cup, Golden Sixty is looking to join Rapper Dragon as the only horse to sweep all three legs of the prestigious four-year-old series.
“He is a tough horse, everybody knows he got a temperature two weeks ago but he still performed today,” trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai said post-race.
“I was very worried. I tried everything [to get him here], finally we made it here. He jumped and he followed the other horses, he relaxed well like last time.
“I am happy with that because before the race I worried that there was no pace in it.”
Golden Sixty was given a perfect ride from Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, who continues his career-best season.
After being caught in a pocket, the 29-year-old showed the patience of a saint in the straight, bolting onto the back of Ryan Moore aboard Champion’s Way before unleashing Golden Sixty’s trademark turn of foot.
“He settled really well in the race, first time at 1,800m and I followed the right horse, I didn’t want to push the button too early because it might have used him too much so I found a gap and sprinted home,” Ho said.
“He is a tough and talented horse, he had some issues two weeks ago so I just wanted to get him as relaxed as possible. I just hope he pulled up well.”
Pre-race concerns about a lack of pace in the race eventuated with World Famous eventually leading the field into the home turn, forcing the likes of Zac Purton on backmarker More Than This to go for home 500m out.
“It didn’t really feel [like a truly run race] but he is really tough and he wants to fight when horses come close and he wants to win,” Ho said.
“I just had to find a gap, Zac took off quite early at the 500m. If he blocked me in, I would have come outside him but [Champion’s Way] got going and had plenty in the tank so I trucked behind him and flew into the race.”
After answering questions about his ability to step up in distance at both 1,600m and 1,800m, Ho said he was now confident about running out the 2,000m of the Derby.
“He settled well, he has learned quite fast. Over 2,000m, I don’t think he will pull too much as long as when he jumps, I can settle him,” he said.
While the nearby fire meant the track was blanketed in a thick smoke, the four-year-old series picture became clearer after Sunday’s race.
With Champion’s Way and More Than This again filling the placings, they have marked themselves as the likely threat to Golden Sixty’s reign.
Star Australian jockey Hugh Bowman confirmed he will fly back to ride fourth placegetter Enjoying after he dashed home late.
The two-time Derby winner believes trainer John Moore can “sharpen up” the 86-rater in time for the main event on March 22.
“He gave me a really good feel, it’s just whether he is quite sharp enough,” he said. “I explained that to John, so he might be able to sharpen him up a bit and work his magic.
“If he can show me a turn of foot when I need to get into the race, he is certainly up to them. I think he can be competitive, a good each-way chance. He will be better over 2,000m but he might be better still over 2,400m.”