Golden Sixty burst into clear ground at the head of Hong Kong’s four-year-old pack with an impressive win in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) this afternoon (Monday, 27 January), a result that bolstered trainer Francis Lui’s hand for the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).
Lui saddled two of Hong Kong’s brightest young stars in the Sha Tin feature and both came good: while Golden Sixty dazzled, More Than This showed Derby sparkle in second to ease the handler’s nerves.
“It’s a kind of relief – I was a little nervous and the closer we got to the race, the more nervous I felt,” Lui admitted after securing his first victory in the storied contest, the first leg in Hong Kong’s three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
“Golden Sixty has done what has been asked of him every time,” Lui continued. “Last race he went 1400 metres, this race was a mile and next time will be 1800 metres in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, so we will take it step by step. If he runs well in the Classic Cup we will go to the Derby.”
The winner took his career tally to eight wins from nine starts and made it a perfect five this season, all under Vincent Ho who was also bagging a first Classic Mile success.
“He was a bit keen today and he took some time to settle but he still showed a good turn-of-foot,” the rider said. “He lay in a little bit, which made things a little bit harder, but he still won very easily.
“It’s just a matter of time for him, to pick him up, and I just have to be patient on him and then he will give me everything he has.”
Golden Sixty positioned third-last on the fence in the nine-runner contest, switched wide entering the straight and quickened decisively from 350m out to clock a closing 400m split of 22.24s, for a final time of 1m 33.61s.
More Than This, was slowly away and settled at the tail, chased his stable mate under Ryan Moore, closing with intent from deep through a concluding split of 22.15s to finish a length and a quarter back.
“He’s a nice horse and he stayed on very well. I’m delighted with his run today,” said Moore, who had jetted in from a runner-up finish on Magic Wand in Saturday’s Group 1 Pegasus World Cup.
Lui, 61, had not tasted success in a four-year-old only major since Hello Pretty took the 2006 Hong Kong Derby Trial, now the Hong Kong Classic Cup. Golden Sixty and More Than This will step up to 1800m for the first time when they rematch in that second leg of the series on 23 February.
And while connections have long considered More Than This to be a dead-set stayer for the Derby, the speedier Golden Sixty has been pegged as a miler despite his sire being Medaglia D’Oro, a Group 1 winner at 10 furlongs.
“From today, I think Golden Sixty can stay 1800 metres; he just needs to settle and give one strong kick and he can still produce that good turn-of-foot,” Ho said
Lui would not be drawn, at least not fully, on which of his two exciting gallopers might have the upper hand come the Derby on 22 March.
“I don’t know,” he said. “At this stage, I think it’s difficult to say but Ryan did say More Than This will improve over further; he was a bit lazy and he needs a faster pace to help him but it was a very good ride from Ryan.
“I think More Than This can handle the Derby distance, and Golden Sixty, the next race is the Classic Cup, so I’ll take it step by step but the main target for both is the Derby.”
Champion’s Way, the highest-rated of his generation at the start of the season, took third under Karis Teetan for trainer John Size; stablemate Beauty Legacy, the mount of Joao Moreira, ran on for fourth after throwing his head around during the early part of the race.
“As I indicated before the race, he’s still doing lots of things wrong,” Moreira said. “He’s still immature and I don’t think that was a bad result at the end of the day, I think he ran a good race and he should learn a lot from this.”
The afternoon also saw Exultant defy top-weight of 133lb to win the Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) for trainer Tony Cruz and jockey Zac Purton.
The fixture’s traditional showcase, the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m), went to the Danny Shum-trained four-year-old Perfect Match, the middle leg of a treble for jockey Alexis Badel.
“He’s very honest over 1400 metres and he’s a smart horse, he can do whatever you want, he can sit, he can lead so I scratched from the Hong Kong Classic Mile. It was too strong a field and the 1600 (metres) might be a little too long for him at this stage,” Shum said.