Voyage Bubble (outside) pulls off a shocker in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (HKJC)
By Leo Schlink – HKJC
Defying expectation, Voyage Bubble provided trainer Ricky Yiu with one of his greatest victories and jockey Alexis Badel with the perfect finale to a challenging week with an incredible triumph in the HK$24 million Hong Kong Derby (2000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (19 March).
Starting at 45/1 and from the outside barrier of 14, Voyage Bubble became the Classic’s longest-priced winner since Ivan Allan’s Holy Grail triumphed at 98/1 in 1999 after an audacious ride by Badel, who lost the ride on star sprinter Wellington in the day’s other feature, the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m).
Despite winning the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series – the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on 29 January – Voyage Bubble was largely shunned in Derby discussions after finishing sixth behind Super Sunny Sing in the traditional Derby lead-up, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 26 February.
Undaunted, Badel became the first French jockey to win the BMW Hong Kong Derby since Maxime Guyon in 2011 with a nerveless and tactically bold display on the son of Deep Field, who bravely delivered veteran handler Yiu’s first success in the Hong Kong’s most prized race.
Restraining Voyage Bubble to last and dropping to the fence, Badel waited until the long back straight to improve his position, moving immediately outside race favourite Beauty Eternal on the home turn before striking the front in the shadows of the post and fending off Tuchel by a short head. Beauty Eternal was third, a further short head away.
Underlining pedestrian tempo, the overall time of the race was 2m 02.78s, the slowest since Rapper Dragon clocked 2m 02.88s in 2017.
Badel, 33, was predictably elated post-race as he reconciled the disappointment of losing the ride on Wellington to Ryan Moore and being offered his first mount on Voyage Bubble in the Derby.
“It’s not over until it’s over, which is great. It’s a good example that you have to bounce back, you have got to keep going. I’m grateful for Ricky and the connections for calling me for this horse. He’s obviously a very talented horse.
“Everybody thought the gate was bad, but it was actually probably the reason I won the race because I had to come back. We had to change our plan and the tempo wasn’t very quick and I had my horse relax early and I saved ground and then I had no hesitation to improve a bit on the back straight. The horse was tough, he’s got a great heart and he really showed some quality in the straight.
“He was brilliant and I’m very happy for the connections, the owners and myself. I still can’t believe it, actually. It’s like the race isn’t finished yet. It’s very special.
“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 in Hong Kong as a jockey.
“All you are really looking for are the Group 1s, the major races and the (BMW) Hong Kong Derby is just history so I’m very grateful to Ricky, his stable and all the connections – the people who gave me the support on the horse and I’m very, very happy. I feel blessed that I was able to produce such a good performance today and the horse was superb.”
Hong Kong Champion Trainer in 2019/20, Yiu has been more renowned for his association with outstanding sprinters such as Sacred Kingdom and Fairy King Prawn and, in seven previous Derby attempts, his best previous result was seventh with Outdoor Pegasus in 2011.
At 65, Yiu has been given the chance to extend his career beyond the usual retirement age providing he satisfies certain performance criteria and, with a double today, he sits in second place in this season’s championship with 41 wins behind 11-time champion John Size (46).
“Of course, this is the most prestigious race in Hong Kong racing and I’m very, very happy and grateful to win this Derby race,” Yiu beamed, admitting he harboured stamina doubts over Voyage Bubble.
“Over the trip, 2000 metres, I was a little bit doubtful, and then again with the wide draw. We needed to try something different. We even looked at the previous Derby races, horses drawn from the outside and where they finished and where they made a move,” he said.
“We just stuck to the plan. He had to be relaxed at the first bend, as relaxed as possible, and make the run from the back stretch slowly, gradually. Alexis did a very good job, a tremendous job.
“Over the 2000m we tried something different and he (Voyage Bubble) still managed to perform. He is an incredible horse. This horse is very versatile, over the mile or 2000m. Obviously he’s got a great heart.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (22 March).