Douglas Whyte hopes to turn his attention straight to the top level with big-money import Russian Emperor after the impeccably bred colt fell agonisingly short in Sunday’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien in Ireland, Russian Emperor was acquired for an eight-figure price tag and he very nearly repaid connections in spades when he loomed up before finishing a head second to Sky Darci in Hong Kong’s most prestigious race.
“I hate second place but I suppose it’s better than third. It’s still not a winner and there’s only one Derby,” Whyte lamented post-race before confirming he will push onto next month’s Group One QE II Cup (2,000m) and the Group One Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) in May should all be in order with Russian Emperor.
“He looks the goods and it looks like he’s going to get better from here on in. He’s only had the four runs now and he’s still raw. He’s got a lot of upside.
“We will possibly look at both of those [Group Ones] should he pull up well and be healthy – those are two very good options.”
Joao Moreira overcomes doubt to land Hong Kong Derby aboard Sky Darci with a push from Caspar Fownes
It was a case of what could have been for Whyte and jockey Karis Teetan as they chased their first Derby wins, with Russian Emperor losing ground on Sky Darci after the horse he was tracking – $8.30 chance Shadow Hero – faded turning for home.
While Joao Moreira stuck to the rail aboard Sky Darci around the home turn, Russian Emperor was forced to come out around Shadow Hero before straightening up and letting down.
“That cost us the race. Shadow Hero didn’t take us far enough, he died before he even turned in and [Teetan] had to come out and that presented Joao with a run up the rail,” Whyte said.
Sky Darci wins the 2021 @BMW Hong Kong Derby!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 21, 2021
The New Zealand-bred youngster fends off the fast-finishing Russian Emperor, grabbing the HK$24 million event under Joao Moreira (@cavaleiro83) for trainer Caspar Fownes. #4YOSeries #HKracing pic.twitter.com/FpmbToH2WM
“He pinched two lengths on us and we made it back well and truly in good fashion but the line came too quickly.
“He’s a dour horse and he’s a big boy. I was proud of him, he ran well and he’s got a nice future now.”
Teetan was disappointed to see things unravel after travelling exactly where he wanted to be forward of midfield.
“It’s pretty hard to swallow. I rode the horse exactly how we planned – to get a perfect spot like that and just wait on him,” he said.
“I thought [Shadow Hero] could have taken me into the race better but he didn’t and I think when I pulled him out, you could tell he is still a bit green and he looked around a bit before letting down again.
“It’s not like I was following the wrong horse, I was following the right horse but it didn’t go our way today.”
Running on for third from the back half of the field was $26 outsider Panfield, with trainer Tony Millard praising the South American import for his effort from barrier 12.
“I think if we had a decent draw I don’t think it would have been a contest,” Millard said. “He ran a great race and you have got to play the cards you are dealt. Joao just rode a brilliant race.”
Whyte also had Congratulation in the field, who went back from a wide draw and was never in the hunt on his way to finishing second last under Tony Piccone.
“I thought he would get the rail and be maybe seven or eight lengths off them but he was 17 lengths off them,” Whyte said. “Tony said before turning in he thought he was going to run midfield but he blew up and I think he will be a very nice miler.”
Schofield finds his Treasure
It may have been a twist of fate that landed Chad Schofield the ride aboard the promising Fantastic Treasure but the jockey jokes he has firmly superglued himself to his saddle ever since.
The 27-year-old grabbed his first winner since returning from a back injury, saluting in style on the three-year-old.
Fittingly, Fantastic Treasure was Schofield’s last victory on February 14 and he was only given the ride when the horse unexpectedly gained a start from the reserves list with Keith Yeung Ming-lun originally booked.
“On debut, it was meant to be Keith’s ride but once he won on debut with the feel he gave me, I’ve superglued myself to him ever since,” Schofield said. “It’s the first winner since I have come back from that time off.”
Fantastic Treasure’s four-length margin does not do justice to the ease with which he won, with Schofield saying the five-week break between runs did “wonders” for the horse.
“He was super impressive, he really took it up a few notches today, it was soft in the end,” he said. “He was off the bridle, chasing the whole way but I chose to come to the outside because I thought it could clog up there in the inside.
“When he saw daylight there at the top of the straight and I squeezed him, he dropped down and accelerated like a good horse.”
Trainer David Hayes said he would stick to 1,200m trips for the son of Written Tycoon for the time being, before testing him over more ground next season.
“Next season he’ll be even better at 1,600m but this season we’ll keep him short because he’s young,” he said. “He won like an upper-class horse and physically he looks like one.”
Beluga hands Hall his 500th win
One of the unluckiest horses in Hong Kong finally found some fortune with Beluga delivering trainer David Hall his 500th win in the city.
The four-year-old gelding had drawn barriers 11, 13, 11, 14 and 13 in his previous five starts – placing in three of them – and things only got marginally better on Sunday when he jumped from nine in the Class Three Collection Handicap (1,400m).
It didn’t all go exactly to script – Zac Purton had to go back a little bit further than planned to find some cover – but he hit the line well to nab the well-backed True Legend in the shadows of the post while holding off the fast-finishing Perfect Pair.
“The owner got into the paddock today and said ‘oh wow, we’ve got a great barrier today – nine’ and I said ‘you’re easily pleased’. It still didn’t work out in his favour too well,” Hall said.
“I think everyone can see he’s deserved that win. His form has been quite solid, everything around him has been standing up and he’s been doing it tough most of the time. He was well rewarded today.”
The Australian, who made the move to Sha Tin in 2004, is not one to get too caught up in milestones but admits it is a nice reminder of what he’s achieved.
“It’s not something I even knew about until the boys did the interview the other day,” Hall said. “It’s been a great journey and 500 [winners] sounds great.”