Newcomer Ka Ying Star shows his class
Trainer Tony Cruz says his debut winner is earmarked for the 4YO Classic Series
Ka Ying Star stole the lead and sprang towards the head of Hong Kong's four-year-old pecking order with a first-up win in the last race - the Class 2 Lung Kong Handicap over 1,600m - at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The Cityscape gelding, known as Urban Aspect before his arrival at Sha Tin, attracted the attention of Hong Kong interests with three wins from four starts in Britain.
A make-all Sha Tin debut under Vincent Ho now suggests that the bay's owner Leung Shek Kong has the Four-Year-Old Classic Series candidate he had hoped his investment would yield.
"He'll definitely go to the Classic Mile and he'll come on from this race, for sure. He isn't 100 per cent fit yet but the race went to plan for him," said trainer Tony Cruz, after Ka Ying Star made all and ran home 13/4 lengths clear of the 14-strong field, which featured eight of his peers.
The Hong Kong Classic Mile is three weeks away, while the second leg of the three-race series, the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1,800m is scheduled for Feb 17. The biggest of the trio, the HK$18 million (S$3.12 million) BMW Hong Kong Derby over 2,000m, comes a month after that.
"He's really a miler and that's his pedigree but, if he has a chance to go to the Derby, then why not? We'll give it a try," said Cruz of the 28-1 winner, who carried bottomweight of 118lb (53.6kg).
"The horse was a front-runner in England, so I told Vincent to go to the lead where he likes to be. He's like his sire, Cityscape, he won from the front, too.
"But the tempo was slow today, it was a sprint, it wasn't a true race really."
Slow tempo or not, winning a Class 2 handicap at Sha Tin on debut is no mean feat and Ho was impressed, more so given the bay's antics pre-race, when he had to be pushed into the starting gate.
"He feels like a horse capable of being right there in the Classic Mile - on that performance there's no problem because he will only keep improving," said the rider.
"He's definitely got a lot to learn. He was a bit green when I cantered down and again when I got to the gate. Given that he was a baby, it was amazing that he won like that today and it will be exciting to see how he matures up because he's a really good horse."
Horses aged four filled six of the first seven places, with the John Moore-trained Easy Go Easy Win in second and Australian import Furore building on a sound local debut last month to run third under Derek Leung.
"He'll go on to the Classic Mile," said trainer Frankie Lor of Furore.
"He improved after his last run and I think he'll improve again after this run."
Cruz, meanwhile, was also pleased with Helene Leadingstar's effort in running on to finish seventh under Karis Teetan.
"The tempo was too slow for Helene Leadingstar - it suits one and not the other," he said. "With a fast tempo, he'll have a better chance next time."
Race favourite Charity Go took sixth, while Tigre Du Terre, a fine second on debut a month ago, was a flat 11th. The John Size-trained Enrichment was a smart fourth on his first outing since making his Hong Kong bow back in October.
Jolly Banner caused a shock in the afternoon's feature, the Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap over 1,000m.
Trainer Ricky Yiu's seven-year-old prevailed at odds of almost 90-1 under Matthew Poon, for whom it was a first Group win in Hong Kong. - HKJC