Neil Callan celebrates Group 1 success! Photo by HKJC.

Callan calls on Hong Kong Derby hope Columbus County to spark late season surge

Michael Cox


Michael Cox’s Derby Watch

In the lead-up to the 2020 Hong Kong Derby, Michael Cox will provide analysis for Hutchi’s Honkers as the next generation of stars builds up to the big race on March 20. The four-year-old series began with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on January 27, continued with the Hong Kong Classic Cup on February 23 and culminates with the Derby on March 22.




Neil Callan knows the difference a banner horse can make to a jockey in Hong Kong and is hoping his Derby ride Columbus County can spark a late season resurgence.

Callan has taken the hard road in Hong Kong since riding five winners on a three-month stint in 2010-11. He didn’t arrive with the fanfare or reputation of many visiting jockeys and has had to fight for every one of his 251 winners since.

The 41-year-old has had his share of big race success with Group 1 winners Blazing Speed and Beauty Only and knows the flow-on effect of linking with a banner horse – something he feels Columbus County could provide.

Callan had a lean 2018-19 with 17 winners but has 12 so far this term and with a licence extension through to season’s end under his belt, he is looking forward to the upcoming months.

“If you land a good horse, you get noticed a little bit more, you can turn a corner and things change. I’m really happy to have picked up the ride on the horse and I hope it is a catalyst to better things,” Callan said.

“Anyway, I had to work my backside off to get where I am. You can’t let one or two seasons get you down. I am still here fighting like always, working hard and I feel I am riding well.”

Zac Purton rode Columbus County at the New Zealand-import’s last two starts, both seconds and the last of which was a nose-defeat to Derby rival Amazing Beats.


Columbus County has been ridden by Zac Purton his last two starts, with Neil Callan scoring the Derby ride. Photo by HKJC.


Although consistent in four starts for trainer Caspar Fownes, the knock on Columbus County has been that of a “non-winner”, looming like the winner late but failing to find that extra half-length under pressure.

Callan is more sympathetic, pointing to the gelding’s relative inexperience, coming off just three starts in a single three-year-old preparation for Cambridge, New Zealand-based Lauren Brennan.

“He is probably still just learning,” he said.

“All of his runs have been with merit and the last race, Paul O’Sullivan’s horse (Amazing Beats) ducked up on his inside and took him by surprise. Every time he steps out he improves and I don’t see why he won’t improve again given this is only his eighth start.”

How much improvement Columbus County needs to make is the point though. Heading into the race off a mark of 91 after skipping the four-year-old series and sticking to Class 2 handicaps, Columbus County finds himself at level weights against the established top-three of Golden Sixty, More Than This and Champion’s Way – rated 112, 107 and 108 respectively.

“Obviously those three horses really stand out,” Callan said. “But just behind them it is very competitive. I think I have a few things in my favour. I think my horse will definitely stay the trip, and he is an uncomplicated ride. He ticks a lot of boxes. Last start he really pinged the gates and Zac was able to take up a spot closer to the speed over 2000m. At the same distance again, knowing we have some tactical versatility is a huge plus.”

The Hong Kong Derby barrier draw will be held on Thursday and the race on Sunday, March 22.



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