Ricky Yiu Poon-fai and Alexis Badel pulled off a breathtaking BMW Hong Hong Derby (2,000m) heist on Sunday afternoon, with the Frenchman producing a masterful winning ride aboard long-shot Voyage Bubble to leave the Sha Tin crowd stunned.
A renowned leader, Badel took $46 chance Voyage Bubble back to last from the outside gate before timing things to perfection to ensure the four-year-old added Derby glory to his Classic Mile success in January.
“I still can’t believe it. It’s like the race isn’t finished yet. It’s very special,” Badel said.
“Everybody thought the gate was bad but it was actually probably the reason I won the race because I had to come back. The horse was tough, he’s got a great heart and he really showed some quality in the straight.”
Yiu and Badel tasted Derby success for the first time and it was that little bit sweeter for the jockey after his roller-coaster week ended on the most dizzying of highs.
Taken off Wellington in favour of Ryan Moore for the Group One Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, which took place a race earlier, Badel watched on as the horse he’s won three Group Ones aboard finished third behind Lucky Sweynesse.
“It’s a good example that you have to bounce back, you have got to keep going,” Badel said.
“Being a jockey, you go through ups and downs and this season has been very difficult for me. I came back from injury and suspensions and it means everything to win such a big race.
WHAT A FINISH! 🤯🤯— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 19, 2023
It's a 45/1 upset in the 146th @BMW Hong Kong Derby as Voyage Bubble prevails narrowly for @AlexisBadel and Ricky Yiu. #4YOSeries | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/DO6Jtt9cwX
“All you are really looking for are the major races. The Hong Kong Derby is history so I’m very grateful to Ricky, his stable and all the people who gave me the support.”
After leading all the way to win the first leg of the four-year-old series – the Classic Mile – at $11, Voyage Bubble faded into sixth in last month’s Classic Cup before becoming the roughest Derby winner since Holy Grail’s blowout victory at $183 in 1999.
While just about everyone expected Voyage Bubble to set the Derby pace, Yiu and Badel had other ideas in the HK$24 million feature.
In a race run almost three seconds slower than standard for the first mile – including a split from the 1,600m to the 1,200m about 10 lengths outside average – Badel sat last aboard Voyage Bubble before beginning his move a full 1,300m from home.
Three lengths off leader Keefy by the 700m, Voyage Bubble peeled off a final 400m of 22.29 seconds to see off John Size-trained pair Tuchel and Beauty Eternal in a spine-tingling finish.
“All credit to Ricky and the connections. We had a long chat before the race and we chose to save the ground and give the horse a chance before the turn to make sure he was relaxed,” Badel said.
“As soon as he was relaxed, I was free to improve my position if the pace wasn’t quick enough. I decided to make my own run on the back straight because the pace was very slow.
“I feel blessed that I was able to produce such a good performance today and the horse was superb.”
Tuchel finished a short head adrift in second under Moore after having to hunt for a run in the straight, while Zac Purton was puzzled after hot favourite Beauty Eternal failed to deliver in the finish despite travelling one out, one back.
Yiu’s daring Derby win on par with his trainers’ title: ‘I’m very, very happy’
“I can’t work it out. With the run he had, I expected him to win. It’s as simple as that,” Purton said.
Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Keefy hung on for fourth, Straight Arron was fifth for Caspar Fownes and Lor’s other runner, Sword Point, was luckless in sixth.