Dual Australian Group One winner Shadow Hero begins his Hong Kong career on Sunday as one of the best-credentialed horses to be sold to the jurisdiction in recent history.
The four-year-old will square off against a host of other leading Derby contenders in the Class Two Chevalier Property Investment Handicap (1,400m) in what shapes as one of the most fascinating contests of the season so far.
Highly touted imports Enrich Delight (who previously raced as Chenier), Tourbillon Diamond (Eric The Eel) and Berlin Tango will also have their first start, while Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Healthy Happy (Leviathan) returns after his first-up victory.
Bought by prominent owner Edmond Lee Man-bun, Shadow Hero arrived in Hong Kong with a big rating (92) and an even bigger reputation after winning both the Spring Champion Stakes (2,000m) and Randwick Guineas (1,600m) in Sydney last season.
“You normally can’t buy that sort of horse with no problems – there are no hidden tricks to him,” trainer David Hayes said.
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“I had nothing to do with [the deal], the owners did it all and then they told me. I was happily surprised about it, and was more than happy to take him on.”
With a multimillion-dollar price tag, Shadow Hero carries lofty expectations and has been pegged as one of this season’s leading Derby hopes.
Having only ever won at 1,600m and above, Hayes won’t be surprised to see the son of Pierro get beaten first-up, but he is expecting bigger things come his second start next month.
“We know he will get better as the races get longer, his prime target is the Derby,” he said.
Dual Australian G1 winner Shadow Hero (@zpurton) looked impressive in a barrier trial at Sha Tin this morning, crossing the line first ahead of the John Size-trained Juneau Park & Nicconi Express. @lindsayparkrace #HKracing pic.twitter.com/EcDO6NfBwK— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 17, 2020
“He is in the race with expectations to be competitive on Sunday and we think he will be really hard to beat on international day [in Class Two], which will be his first major goal leading into the Classic Mile.
“He has settled in brilliantly, he hasn’t missed a beat since he’s been here.”
With everything going to plan so far, Hayes is yet to feel the weight of expectation for the promising galloper, but knows how quickly it can turn pear-shaped.
“It is more excitement than pressure you feel with these guys,” he said. “If they are going well you don’t feel the pressure, it is when they’re not [going well] you start to feel it a bit. In saying that, I am very happy with this guy at the moment.
“Now he has to come out and do it on race day but if trackwork and trials are any guide, if it’s not this week it will be next start.”
Champion jockey Zac Purton will be in the saddle after piloting him through three impressive barrier trials.
“He has got the perfect barrier, I will leave all [the tactics] to Zac,” Hayes said. “I want to see him build into a rhythm and have a strong race, we will learn a lot from this about how he adapts to the Hong Kong tempo. It can be quite different to the pattern in Australia.”
Hayes will unveil another smart debutant with Super Axiom stepping out in the Class Four Chevalier Aluminium Engineering Handicap (1,000m).
The three-year-old has shown exceptional ability at the trials and the two-time champion trainer is hoping he can follow in the footsteps of his stablemate Harmony N Blessed, who won on debut last week.
“His trials have been very similar to Harmony N Blessed,” he said. “He is a really imposing, good-looking horse who will be better when the races get a bit longer. I think he will be pretty hard to beat when you look at how he’s trialled.”