By Andrew Hawkins
A week after claiming a record sixth BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) with Rapper Dragon, trainer John Moore already has his sights set on the 2018 edition of the blue riband as he debuts Australian import Rocketeer in the Class 2 Lusitano Challenge Cup Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (26 March).
“We are always looking forward and Rocketeer is the first of a number of prospects for next year,” Moore said hours after Rapper Dragon’s Derby win last Sunday (19 March), before jetting out to Dubai where he saddles up Not Listenin’tome in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) on Saturday (25 March). “He was one horse we quickly identified, I saw him at Flemington over the spring and he just looked so new, I thought about how good he would be physically when he grew a little more. He’s a big, powerful horse and I can’t wait to see what he does.”
Rapper Dragon, owned by Albert Hung, won the Class 2 mile contest on this day last year, his second win at his fifth Hong Kong start, before progressing to take the HKG3 Lion Rock Trophy (1600m) in May. This season, he stepped up to become the first horse to win all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, taking the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) in January and the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) in February before adding the Derby last weekend.
This year, it is Hung’s son Kevin, owner of Rocketeer, who is hoping a path towards potential Derby glory begins in the Lusitano Challenge Cup.
Rocketeer (123lb) was formerly trained by Mick Price in Melbourne, and while the Smart Missile gelding only won a country maiden over 1400m at Wangaratta from eight starts, it was his subsequent form that made him an attractive Derby prospect for Moore and Hung.
Placed in handicaps behind subsequent G1 winner Hey Doc and G1-placed Harlow Gold, he was then narrowly beaten in the Listed UCI Stakes (1800m) at Flemington and the G3 Norman Robinson Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield before a last-start seventh to Prized Icon in the G1 Victoria Derby (2500m), once again at Flemington, in October.
Douglas Whyte takes the ride for the three-year-old’s Hong Kong debut on Sunday and says, from his interaction with the horse in his work over the past few mornings, he believes he has all the makings of a Derby hope this far out.
“He feels like a really nice horse,” Whyte said at Sha Tin trackwork on Friday morning. “He feels like he’s got plenty of upside though and he will be even better next season. The mile first-up is a slight concern but when you work him, there’s a lot of him, he’s got a big action. He’s done enough work, John has got him as fit as he can for a first-up effort and the horse himself gives me a really good feel. I think he’s very progressive.”
The Class 2 affair also includes two of this year's Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders in Tony Cruz’s Winner's Way (131lb) and Peter Ho’s Baba Mama (120lb), while David Hall-trained Solar Hei Hei (127lb) creates interest with new 10-pound claimer Matthew Poon taking the mount.
The Lusitano Challenge Cup is scheduled as the eighth of 10 races and will jump at 4:35pm.
Legend to tackle bend for first time in Hong Kong
Moore and Whyte also combine with another three-year-old a race earlier as Magic Legend strives to remain unbeaten in the Class 2 Duddell Handicap (1200m).
Magic Legend (126lb) has been impressive in winning two starts over the Sha Tin straight 1000m course, but now steps up to 1200m for the first time in Hong Kong. The Red Element gelding, who raced as Hostwin Legend in Australia, did win twice around bends down under, taking an 1100m maiden at Hawkesbury and a 1200m two-year-old handicap at Doomben, but Whyte acknowledges that it is a different task now at Sha Tin against this level of competition.
“He’s a lovely horse going forward, he’s got natural gate speed and he’s done everything correctly,” Whyte said. “We are dictated to by the program, though, there are no more 1000m races so we’re limited for options. He’s thrown in the deep end now but he looks progressive enough to make the step up. He still feels pretty raw so I’m hoping there’s still a lot of upside to him; at the moment, he’s jumped quite heftily in the ratings so you have to be mindful of that.”
Moore applied successfully to have a crossed nose band added to Magic Legend’s gear after showing signs of immaturity in his two starts down the straight, and Whyte explained that it would make his job as rider easier, especially with the step up to 1200m.
“We’re hoping it will help him, it will help my cause if he is a little more tractable,” Whyte said. “He races in a rubber bit which doesn’t give me a lot of control, so the crossed nose band just shuts him down that bit more and gives me a little bit more control of him.”
Magic Legend faces nine rivals, including last-start winners House Of Fun (125lb) and High Five (118lb), as well as Paul O’Sullivan-trained pair Line Seeker (133lb) and Archippus (132lb).
The Duddell Handicap will jump at 4:05pm, with the opener, the Class 5 Albany Handicap (2000m), kicking the card off at 12:45pm.
Magic Legend landed back-to-back wins when scoring over the Sha Tin 1000m last start.