Keith Yeung was Champion Apprentice Jockey in 2009/10 and will ride for the second time in the Hong Kong Derby. Photo by HKJC.

Lesser lights get a chance to shine as travel restrictions take hold

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.



Not even the Hong Kong Derby is immune to the ever-tightening travel restrictions taking effect but the bonus for local riders is that a lack of foreign-based jockeys gives some lesser lights a rare chance they are usually denied in the biggest race on the calendar.

It was confirmed yesterday that star jockeys Tommy Berry, Brett Prebble and Jamie Spencer would not ride in Sunday’s HK$20million race after travel restrictions became too difficult logistically, and the risk for the Hong Kong Jockey Club too great.

The Derby is usually a chance for owners to fly big-name riders in for the race and in recent years Ryan Moore (Ping Hai Star, 2018) and Hugh Bowman (Werther, 2016, and Furore, 2019) have won the race, but even rank outsiders have had the services of guns for hire on single-day licenses.

Trainer John Moore has called on local rider Keith Yeung to replace Berry on Savvy Nine, Frankie Lor has booked Brazilian Vagner Borges to ride Super Oasis and Matthew Poon replaces Prebble on the Tony Cruz-trained Private Secretary.

In a race in which the top three chances – Golden Sixty, More Than This and Champion’s Way – will have a stranglehold on betting, the others are likely to start long odds.

Ricky Yiu’s World Famous will also jump at a big quote after getting a run following Enjoying’s withdrawal earlier in the week and the late call-up gives Alex Lai a start in the race.

Lai is a 17-season veteran who has ridden 277 winners but Sunday will be his first ride in the Derby since his one-and-only start in the race when seventh behind Ambitious Dragon in 2011 aboard the Yiu-trained Outdoor Pegasus.

Poon has only been riding in Hong Kong since March 2017, so it isn’t surprising that this is his first ride in the race, but for Yeung, the lack of opportunities is telling when it comes to the typical Hong Kong owners’ penchant for flying in a foreigner.

Yeung is 31, and with more than 250 wins over 12 seasons he has ridden in the Derby just once when rank outsider Bullish Boy ran last in 2014.

Borges, riding in Hong Kong for a second time after a short stint last season, has probably been gifted the best chance of the pick-up rides aboard Super Oasis and even a placing would lift the newcomer’s profile.

The trend of flying in jockeys had reached ridiculous levels and it is refreshing to see a field of 14 with six local jockeys taking rides – including Vincent Ho on hot favourite Golden Sixty.

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



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