Ping Hai Star in a class of his own
John Size-trained 4YO stamps his authority with last-to-first victory in Hong Kong Derby
Ping Hai Star handed jockey Ryan Moore a first BMW Hong Kong Derby victory with a stunning last-to-first drive at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday.
"He's a very talented horse," said Moore after the New Zealand-bred had quickened one-and-three-quarter lengths clear of runner-up, Singapore -owned Singapore Sling, in the HK$18 million (S$3 million) classic.
The exciting bay clocked 2min 01.18sec, the fastest time in 19 runnings since the feature was upped to 2,000m.
After anchoring at the tail of the 14-runner field, 11 lengths astern of the pace-setting The Golden Age, Ping Hai Star blitzed through the final 800m.
"It wasn't really the plan, to be that far back, at all," said Moore.
"I just felt I'd ride him with lots of confidence. I believed before the race that he was the best horse in the race and I think his class showed.
"He's just a high-quality horse with a very good turn of foot. Someone pointed him out to me back in January actually - said he's a good horse. He ran that trip no problem at all."
It was a third win in the race for trainer John Size with Ping Hai Star, following Fay Fay (2012) and Luger (2015).
"You can't win a race any more dominantly than that. He was the class horse that came out of the pack, so he's identified himself," said Size.
Ping Hai Star went into the third and final leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series as an intriguing untapped talent.
While his main rivals battled for honours in the first two legs, Size masterminded an assault on the series finale with three consecutive handicap wins over 1,400m.
No Derby winner before had headed into the race without a win over a distance of a mile (1,600m) or more.
In fact, Size had indicated as recently as January that the galloper would likely stick to distances over a mile and under for the foreseeable future, thus sidestepping this year's Derby.
An impressive win two weeks ago prompted a change of heart.
"The last time he raced, I saw something that I liked about him as far as a Derby prospect was concerned," said Size.
"He came from the tail of the field, he settled quite nicely, he was very happy to reel off some quick sectionals at the end of the race.
"The only gamble was whether he was fit enough and had the stamina to run 2,000m with his inexperience.
"I backed him up quickly into a (barrier) trial at Happy Valley and I was very satisfied with all that, and then it was just a matter of coming to the races and hoping that the race unfolded and was run to suit him."
The plan worked. The Hong Kong Classic Cup one-two of Singapore Sling and Exultant had no answer for the gelding's sustained acceleration.
Hong Kong Classic Mile victor Nothingilikemore faded out to 11th, leaving Ping Hai Star as the undisputed king of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
"We'll have a think about what he'll do. I'll absorb what's happened and look to where he goes now," said Size.
Singapore Sling's rider Chad Schofield thought the silverware was his when he angled out to run home.
"I had a lovely run throughout the race," he said.
"When I exposed him, I thought I had the race won but Ping Hai Star won fair and square. He was too good on the day." - HKJC