A split-second decision with 950m to go was the difference between winning and losing Sunday’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.
With the field bunching up approaching the last turn, there was a safe option and there was a risky one.
Karis Teetan, aboard Russian Emperor, took the prudent path, getting off the rail and on the back of Shadow Hero with the idea that his mount would have an uninterrupted passage down the straight.
Joao Moreira, on Sky Darci, rolled the dice, slipping down to the inside to ensure Caspar Fownes’ charge, who was questionable at the trip, would take the shortest route home.
That’s where the race was won.
In fairness to Teetan, his move was the percentage play. He knew his horse would be strong at the finish and doesn’t have a sharp turn of foot, so building momentum would be more important than getting caught behind tiring horses and having to sit and then sprint.
Unfortunately for the Mauritian, he got on the back of Shadow Hero – one of the main chances – and expected to get a tow into the race, but it just didn’t happen. David Hayes’ four-year-old was gone as they entered the straight, slowing Russian Emperor down and forcing him out even wider. It definitely cost him a length or two.
Meanwhile, Moreira cut the corner and was able to sweep off the heels of Healthy Happy and Silver Express, pushing into the spot a tiring Shadow Hero left wide open and gifting him a head start that ultimately proved insurmountable. The final margin was a head. The reward was worth the risk.
Joao Moreira overcomes doubt to land Hong Kong Derby aboard Sky Darci with a push from Caspar Fownes
Both drew well and that put them in a position to make the decisions – others didn’t get that opportunity – but one made the safe move and the other made the winning one.
That’s why the Magic Man is one of the all-time greats.
Big money doesn’t buy Derby success
You don’t need to spend bulk cash to win the Derby.
Amid of host of big-name imports with eight-figure price tags, Sky Darci was the only horse in the field of 14 to arrive in Hong Kong unraced.
Bought for NZ$160,000 (HK$890,000) at the 2018 Karaka sale in New Zealand, the son of Darci Brahma was also probably the cheapest horse there.
Here is a free hint for owners looking to buy the next Derby champion – they should probably look for horses graduating from Highden Park, a boutique farm in Manawatu.
Sky Darci is the latest to have come through the system which means Highden Park has now been associated with three of the past six Derby winners, including Werther and Ping Hai Star, alongside Derby placegetter and two-time Horse of the Year Beauty Generation.
It is a phenomenal record from such a small operation.
“It’s so surreal,” Highden Park principal Libby Bleakley said. “As nice a horse as he is, we didn’t think it was a possibility that we could win another Derby.”
Badel lectured by stewards
After all the predictions this would be one of the slowest Derbies in history, Alexis Badel ensured that wasn’t the case after scorching along with Classic Cup champion Healthy Happy for the first 800m.
He slammed on the brakes after that and crawled for the next 600m before the pace picked up again to make it a stop-start affair.
The Frenchman’s tactics earned the ire of the stewards, who hauled him in to explain his actions afterwards.
‘No pressure’ for Alexis Badel as Classic Cup winner looks to repeat the dose in the Hong Kong Derby
Badel said he was comfortable taking the lead and felt Healthy Happy was “relaxed and travelling well within itself” but he was not aware that he and Silver Express had opened up a significant margin over the remainder of the field nor did he know the race was being run much quicker than he had anticipated.
Stewards told Badel that “he should have made more of an effort earlier than he did to steady Healthy Happy in the lead given that he was able to run the race at a more sedate tempo after the 1,200m” and he needs to ensure that “he rides his mounts to finish off their races as best as they are able”.
Healthy Happy hung onto sixth, beaten two and a quarter lengths.
Barriers play a defining role
Thursday’s barrier draw hurt two horses the most – Tourbillon Diamond and Panfield – and connections will rightly be ruminating about what could’ve been after they both put in exceptional runs.
With the pace drawn inside them, both jockeys took their medicine and went back early, but weren’t suited by the fast-slow-fast shape of the race.
Despite that, they – along with Excellent Proposal – rattled off the three fastest closing sectionals, suggesting the result could have been different with a little bit of luck.
They shouldn’t lose any admirers going forward.