Francis Lui Kin-wai had only ever had three Hong Kong Derby runners before preparing two of the first three across the line in last year’s edition but the past 18 months has proven history means little for the born-again trainer.
After by far the biggest season of his 25-year career last term – with 63 winners and his first Derby success – Lui is again flying in 2020-21 with 33 victories and two Group Ones in his keeping thanks to Golden Sixty.
And while his Derby hand this season might not match that of Golden Sixty – who swept the 2019-20 four-year-old series – and More Than This – who placed in every leg – the canny handler is a chance to again take a two-pronged attack into the race.
Lucky Patch finished fourth in the Classic Mile and is going full steam ahead to the Classic Cup in two weeks, while Sea Of Life is preparing to lay down a Derby marker in Saturday’s Class Two Yuen Long Handicap (1,600m).
After consecutive Class Three victories, Sea Of Life faces his toughest test yet but jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu believes the gelding has the ability to continue his march towards Hong Kong’s most prestigious race.
“We’re definitely trying to get him into the Derby. I don’t know if there is enough time for the Classic Cup but, for sure, we’re aiming for the Derby,” Ho said.
After a couple of solid yet unspectacular runs to begin his Hong Kong career, Sea Of Life has gone undefeated in two starts since joining forces with Ho – once at 1,200m and then at 1,400m late last month.
His form in Australia pre-import included a victory at 1,550m, giving Ho confidence Sea Of Life will take to the Sha Tin mile with aplomb.
“The step-up in class and distance at the same time will be challenging but I think he can handle it,” Ho said of the four-year-old, who has drawn nicely in gate two. “With the good draw, for sure it helps.”
Sea Of Life carries 120 pounds in his first Class Two assignment and Ho couldn’t be happier with the son of Sebring after galloping him on Thursday.
“It felt good, I was happy with it. He feels good and mentally he’s getting stronger so I’m quite happy with how he’s going,” he said.
Lui also saddles up Happy Valley specialist Alpha Hedge in the race, who has had an impressive last 12 months with three wins and a string of placings but has struggled to make a real impact in Class Two.
The seven-year-old carries only 118 pounds from gate three under Vagner Borges as he chases his first Sha Tin victory at career start 31.
Among Lui’s eight runners on Saturday is another Derby entrant, with Indicative Vote stepping out in the Class Three Nam Sang Wai Handicap (1,800m) on the all-weather track.
Owned by the same connections as 2020 Derby placegetters Playa Del Puente and More Than This, Indicative Vote has won at 2,016m in Ireland and will have Ho in the saddle.
However, the gelding finished 13th on debut in Hong Kong and would need to show significant improvement to enter the Classic Series picture.