The likes of Fantastic Treasure and Packing Victory can sleep easy – the Classic Mile picture remains much the same after a handful of potential contenders were upstaged by Beluga in the Class Two Chek Keng Handicap (1,600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Punters had focused in on four-year-old series hopefuls Master Delight ($2.2) and The Irishman ($4.4) pre-race, expecting the talented types to lay down a marker ahead of the Classic Mile in three weeks’ time, but they were no match for David Hall’s consistent gelding, who took full advantage of a dawdling pace to secure his first Class Two victory at $5.2.
The Tony Cruz-trained Ima Single Man – another heading towards the Classic Mile – found the lead unchallenged and got away with a pedestrian speed early, going through the first 800m 2.5 seconds outside standard.
It essentially turned the race into a 400m sprint home, significantly disadvantaging those towards the rear but playing into the hands of Beluga and his jockey Matthew Chadwick, who peeled off the heels of the early leader to come away and win by a length and a quarter.
Ima Single Man held on for second and the eye-catching run came from Francis Lui Kin-wai’s The Irishman, who missed the start but rattled home in the last section in a brilliant 21.40 seconds to snatch third from Master Delight.
The lack of speed was the talking point after the race and trainer John Size thought it brought a few undone, including his charge Master Delight, and is hopeful things change for the Classic Mile, where big guns like Fantastic Treasure and Packing Victory await.
“The pacing is going to be a problem – most horses need races run to suit. He’s got plenty of friends that need the same thing so we’ve just got to work through that for the moment,” the 11-time champion trainer said.
“In slow-run races sometimes you don’t see the best of them so I’m hoping he’ll go better when there’s a true tempo.”
Of the other Classic Series prospects, Cruz confirmed Ima Single Man will press onto the Classic Mile, while the slow pace didn’t suit either New Zealand Derby winner Rocket Spade or S J Tourbillon, who both finished at the tail of the field.
But to the winner go the spoils and Hall was delighted to see Lady Luck smile upon Beluga after the five-year-old had been lumped with double-digit barriers in nine of his 15 previous starts.
“How many times has he just run unbelievable races from those wide gates? To see him finally get the charmed run and deliver like he did was pretty fitting considering the way things went with him last year,” Hall said.
“He’s in a good place at the moment and he’s probably not done with. Now is a good time to experiment with him – he’s by Tavistock, they can run a trip and if you take up those box-seat positions in slow-run races it’s a big advantage.
“I’ll put him in an 1,800m next time and then see whether he becomes a handicap Queen Mother [Memorial Cup] horse or something.”
Chadwick had a similar sentiment.
“He was in the right spot, right time. He also got the run of the race today and he got there,” said Chadwick, who also tasted success earlier on the card with Paul O’Sullivan’s August Moon.
“He’s been threatening to do that for a while. [It’s] good to get a double.”
Beluga, who has now won five of his 16 starts, has really come along this season and actually played an important little role earlier in the week as star jockey Zac Purton makes his comeback from a nasty fall.
“Zac got cleared on Wednesday and he just asked me for one horse for trackwork for his first ride back and this horse is the perfect match for him as far as what he needed for his first ride back,” Hall said.
“He’s a bit of a gentleman in the mornings, very easy to handle and of course Zac knows the horse better than anyone, so it was good to have him on.
“I think he’s fully matured now … this season he’s a lot more relaxed, he’s more mature and he’s handling himself a lot better.”