Will Waikuku justify favoritism in Hong Kong Derby?
As the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail ramps up for three-year-olds here, Sha Tin’s leading four-year-olds are set for their coveted prize in Sunday’s Hong Kong Derby. The prestigious conclusion to Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Series, the about 1 1/4-mile test will go off at 4:35 a.m. (EDT). Presumptive favorite Waikuku did not compete in the first two legs of the series, but instead took the handicap route by storm for trainer John Size. After extending his winning streak to four, the Irish-bred enters as the highest-rated horse in the race. Waikuku tries this trip for the first time, and drew the far outside post 14, but neither is necessarily a deal-breaker. The biggest hesitation is his recent hiccup – a sore foot that developed last Sunday morning. Size is reportedly satisfied that he’s over it, following Waikuku’s easy half-mile move on Thursday. Still, it’s not exactly the kind of thing a trainer wants to manage on Derby week. The other prime players have come through the Four-Year-Old Series. Furore has put two strong races together and keeps Winx’s rider Hugh Bowman aboard. Displaying a sparkling turn of foot to capture the Hong Kong Classic Mile, the Pierro gelding rattled home late for fourth in the Hong Kong Classic Cup stolen by unheralded stablemate Mission Tycoon. A more honest pace scenario is likely on tap here, with Tony Cruz’s Ka Ying Star adding cheekpieces and landing a better spot in post 2, and that should help Furore bounce back. Furore’s previous attempt at the Hong Kong Derby distance came during his Australian career, when a troubled fourth (promoted to third) in last year’s Rosehill Guineas (G1). Dark Dream, another Furore stablemate trained by rising star Frankie Lor, has also performed capably in defeat in the first two legs. His fourth in the Classic Mile was admirable considering he was shortening up from a convincing handicap score at the Derby trip, covered extra ground from post 12, and got hampered in scrimmaging that cut up the insides of both hocks. Dark Dream was a closer second in the Classic Cup, but the return to about 1 1/4 miles could bring out the best in him. Jockey Zac Purton pinpointed the one caution – he excels with a little more give in the ground than he’s likely to get Sunday. That held true for his signature wins in Australia, notably the Queensland Derby (G1). If the course ends up being more rain-affected than thought, Dark Dream moves up. In any event, he’s better drawn in post 8 than Lor confreres Furore (post 12) and Mission Tycoon (post 11). Aside from those obvious contenders, Harmony Victory has turned in a couple of creditable efforts from wide posts in his last pair, and may sneak into the frame with a better passage on the rail here. The multiple Brazilian Group 1 winner blew the start in the Classic Mile, but worked his way into fifth, and in the Classic Cup, he made a middle move from well back before flattening out in sixth. While Harmony Victory looks well held by Dark Dream from their earlier handicap clash, new rider Silvestre de Sousa might just engineer the right trip to get him involved in the minors at a price. Ho Ho Khan, who’d mowed down Helene Leadingstar two back to complete a hat trick, picks up James McDonald after a better-than-appears seventh in the Classic Cup. Good luck! Furore winning the Hong Kong Classic Mile (c) Hong Kong Jockey Club