While having a 64-rated runner in Hong Kong’s most prestigious race is sure to raise eyebrows, one of the city’s leading bloodstock agents is confident the jurisdiction’s owners are still buying the right horses.
The Tony Millard-trained Nordic Sky was promoted to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) field on Monday after Captain Win’s connections opted to bypass the race after the galloper finished second at Sha Tin on Saturday.
With a rating of just 64, Classic Cup eighth placegetter Nordic Sky could be the lowest-rated horse ever to run in Hong Kong’s most prestigious race.
Certainly in recent history no horse with a rating even close to that low has gained a Derby spot, with Lucky Girl on 78 in 2016 and Matiri King on 75 in 2006 the only two gallopers in the past 20 years to make the race with a rating south of 80.
This ride from @zpurton... 🤯— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 27, 2022
California Spangle - all class in the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup! 🔥#4YOSeries | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/bZOB0snyWe
This year’s race is set to boast five, with S J Tourbillon (78), Champion Dragon (77), Mr Ascendency (76) and Crossford (75) joining Nordic Sky.
One contributing factor to having so many sub-80-rated gallopers is the fact private purchases (previously raced gallopers) come into Hong Kong on ratings lower than they used to and ahead of this season the Jockey Club lowered the minimum rating private purchases can be allocated from 68 to 63.
At a time when bloodstock prices are skyrocketing, this was done to “improve the value proposition” for owners by helping private purchases be competitive as quickly as possible.
It’s no secret how tough it is to acclimatise to life in Hong Kong and Nordic Sky is the perfect example of a private purchase who has taken time to adapt.
Romantic Warrior makes it 5/5 to take out the Classic Mile! pic.twitter.com/FaFgDO05XO— SKY Racing (@SkyRacingAU) January 30, 2022
The four-year-old is the clear outlier in the Derby field but he was assigned an initial rating of 83 after winning the Group One Brazilian Derby at his second start and has seen that mark slide 19 points across nine unplaced runs.
Nordic Sky is one of 11 private purchases in the Derby field – private purchase griffins (previously unraced horses) California Spangle and Fa Fa and international sale graduate Romantic Warrior are the exceptions.
Among the 11 is Group One New Zealand Derby winner Rocket Spade and Group One Queensland Derby runner-up Senor Toba, while S J Tourbillon ran second in the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes (2,000m) – the race recent Group One Gold Cup victor and last year’s Hong Kong Derby runner-up Russian Emperor won in 2020.
Among those who were bought for the Derby but didn’t make it to the race are Group One Victoria Derby runner-up Hit The Shot and Group One New Zealand 2,000 Guineas second placegetter Bourbonaire.
The top-end talent in Hong Kong has come under question in recent seasons but bloodstock agent David Price is confident Hong Kong owners are still sourcing the best possible horses despite a global pandemic that is now into its third year.
“Hong Kong is constantly trying to buy the right horses and they’re not easy to buy,” said Price, who has been sourcing horses for Hong Kong owners for 25 years.
“It’s not as though they’ve turned up bad horses, the right horses have got here and I don't think it should be understated how hard it is to buy.
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“It’s not a straight out ‘there’s the Derby field, that doesn’t look right’. There’s so many more layers to how it comes about.
“You can fall into the trap of taking a screenshot of the entries and not do any background, especially using Nordic Sky as an example.
“The horse is rated 64 but arrived on 83 and won a Group One at his second start. That’s someone trying to buy a Derby horse for Hong Kong and it hasn’t gone the right way yet.”