By Declan Schuster
This Sunday (20 December) at Sha Tin, two-time champion trainer David Hayes will unveil smart four-year-old Conqueror, who is looking to lay out his BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) credentials in the Class 2 Bellflower Handicap (1400m).
The Fastnet Rock gelding was runner-up to subsequent two-time G1 winner Probabeel in the Listed Karaka Million Three-Year-Old Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie Racecourse in New Zealand, with that horse subsequently winning two G1s, the Surround Stakes (1400m) and Epsom Handicap (1600m) among her next eight starts, which included a G1 W.S Cox Plate (2040m) berth.
“He (Conqueror) was a million dollar colt and he’s been gelded – his manners are a lot better now than in Australia and he finished second to Probabeel. That’s genuine Group 1 form on set weights so if he can bring that to Hong Kong then he will be more than competitive,” Hayes said.
The Australian import was a two-time winner prior to arriving in Hong Kong, under the care of Hayes at his Lindsay Park operation, but he did finish runner-up at G2 level in the Sandown Guineas (1600m), before finishing ninth to his now stablemate, Shadow Hero, in the G1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) at his final run in Australia.
“I hope so [to being a Four-Year-Old Classic Series prospect], he’s rated 85 – I reckon the 1800 metres will be his trip,” Hayes said.
This season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series kicks off on 24 January, 2021 with the first leg, the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), before the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 21 February, 2021 the HK$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on 21 March, 2021.
Hayes is no stranger to Derby success, winning the race in 2003 with the talented filly Elegant Fashion, one of two big-race wins for the handler across his first Hong Kong stint having also nabbed the 2002 Hong Kong Sprint with All Thrills Too, among 458 wins for the handler.
“I think he’ll need the run – he’s got a wide gate and I’d say with the tempo of racing in Hong Kong that he’ll be better suited to the mile, 1800m and 2000m,” the handler said.
Hayes’ youthful stable features 24 horses rated 52 at present, and his Classic Series hopefuls include dual Australian G1 winner Shadow Hero, French G1 placegetters The Summit and Pas Malotru, and the unraced Beauty Joy, an unbeaten prospect in Australia prior to export.
“I just think a lot of these new horses that the tempo is so different for them that it [blinkers] helps them with their focus, as the races get longer he may have the blinkers taken off but I think it’s a positive for his first run,” Hayes said.
The 85-rater will break from gate 11 with Blake Shinn in the saddle, carrying 121lb against a field of 13 others, including Band Of Brothers (132lb), Ballistic King (130lb), Beauty Legacy (126lb), Good Luck Friend (124lb), Healthy Happy (124lb), Winning Method (122lb) and Thinkin’ Big (120lb).
Hayes will saddles eight for Sunday’s 10-race fixture including two-time winner Moneymore in the Class 5 Sunflower Handicap (1000m), as well as Australian import Beauty Kobe who tackles the Class 3 Calla Lily Handicap (1200m).
Uncle Steve finds happy hunting ground
Uncle Steve has struggled to recapture the form that saw him score in Class 2 last season but trainer Douglas Whyte believes he’s found his place in Class 3 as the French-bred prepares for Sunday’s penultimate race, the Class 3 Firecracker Vine Handicap (1600m).
“He’s probably on his rating, he won with his first run for me on a mark of 80 and he’s around that figure now – he just gets into Class 2 and the pace and the competition gets a bit tough for him,” Whyte said.
The talented five-year-old was a one-time winner for trainer John Moore before joining the Whyte yard, though since his first-up Class 2 win last term he could only manage one top-three effort in the grade, before returning to Class 3 this term for improvement.
“He’s honest, he’s working well and his form has been good so he should be competitive again,” Whyte said.
The Dabirsim gelding finished a close-up second last start under apprentice Jerry Chau over this course and distance to Chevalier Prince and Chau will again take riding duties from barrier seven against 13 opponents.
Whyte’s apprentice nabbed his 20th win this season on Wednesday night at Happy Valley.
“He’s (Jerry Chau) going along well, he certainly has a good head on him and as long he keeps it level and stays grounded then he’ll be fine,” Whyte said.
Sunday’s 10-race fixture kicks off at 1pm with the Class 5 Sunflower Handicap (1000m).
HKJC Press Release and Photos