Golden Sixty is the first Hong Kong Derby winner since Holy Grail in 1999 not to feature in either the QE II Cup or Champions Mile in the same season, however Blake Shinn is confident runner-up Playa Del Puente is a worthy representative of this year’s crop of four-year-olds.
Shinn went agonisingly close to pinching last month’s Derby with a daring ride aboard the Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Playa Del Puente, only to be gunned down in the shadows of the post by Golden Sixty.
He reunites with the gelding in Sunday’s Group One FWD QE II Cup (2,000m) and is optimistic about what he can produce against proven top-line performers Exultant and Time Warp.
“I’m excited to get back aboard him after his tremendous effort in the Derby, he got beaten by the champion four-year-old and ran a brave race,” Shinn said.
“He has to obviously make a step-up again against the older horses but with a small field, anything can happen and he’s in there with a shot.”
While four Derby winners – Vengeance Of Rain, Ambitious Dragon, Designs On Rome and Werther – have gone on to take out the QE II Cup in the same season in the past two decades, no runner-up has managed the feat.
Despite that, getting so close to the all-conquering Golden Sixty gives Shinn some hope he can defy history.
“If he can reproduce that run from the Derby he’s going to be competitive, it’s just whether that form is good enough and time will tell,” he said.
In the Derby, Shinn identified a lack of pace in the middle stages and took the bull by the horns, launching Playa Del Puente from the back of the field and dashing for home in the straight.
His tactics are likely to be different this time with just seven runners in the race and Shinn is confident he’ll have options come Sunday.
“I’ll discuss it with Danny and he’ll indicate how he wants me to ride the horse – he has gone forward before and he has settled back,” Shinn said.
“He raced well settling back last time but it will all come down to the pace of the race and how quick they go.
“He’s a horse that can’t sit and sprint, he needs to wind into it. If they go slow early he might be closer but if they go fast he’s probably going to be back a bit and running on.”
Shinn also stays aboard Thanks Forever for the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m), with the John Moore-trained four-year-old looking to go one better after finishing second behind Beat The Clock at Group One level in January.
“He’s right in contention as a legitimate chance. He’s been competitive in his runs at the top level, only narrowly been defeated, so he’s on the verge of taking one of these big races out,” Shinn said.
“He’s got the blinkers applied and hopefully that’s the key gear change that we’re looking for to make the difference and beat the likes of Aethero and Hot King Prawn.”
Of this year’s Derby field, third placegetter More Than This is the only other runner to make it to the Champions Day features, stepping back in trip for the Champions Mile.