The Derby is the most sort-after prize of Hong Kong Jockey Club-owners. Photo by HKJC.

The contrasts of Size and Cruz as Hong Kong’s mega-owners chase elusive Derby glory

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

For hutchishonkers.com

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 build up to the big race on March 20. The four-year-old series begins with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on January 27, continues with the Hong Kong Classic Cup on February 23 and culminates with the Derby on March 22.

 

17/01/2020

The differing paths of top contenders Beauty Legacy and Private Secretary not only makes for a fascinating study in the approach of the two horses’ trainers, but also encapsulates so much about what makes the Hong Kong Derby great.

Beauty Legacy is with John Size, an Australian trainer famous for his patience and long-term planning. Tony Cruz, a local legend, whose style is the antithesis of Size’s, prepares Private Secretary. Cruz’s stable is all about speed – fast gallops, aggressive race tactics and getting horses to peak fitness early. Size doesn’t let his horses off the leash in trackwork and favours long swims and hand-led walks to build fitness.

Comparing Cruz and Size is short-term versus long-term, win now versus “horse first”.

The fact the two horses are owned by Hong Kong’s biggest spending, and arguably most successful, owners adds intrigue. Beauty Legacy is raced by the Kwok family, and Private Secretary by the Sius, with the fact that neither of the families have won the Derby providing an even greater sense of urgency to the horses’ preparations. Beauty Legacy and Private Secretary are big money purchases from opposite sides of the planet, for two groups of mega-rich owners willing to spend more than the Derby’s first-prize cheque in search of glory.

Both horses appear to have bright futures ahead of them but the lack of a Derby trophy for either family – between whom a strong big race rivalry has developed over the last decade – means there is a sense that Derby success trumps any long term plans for both camps.

Hong Kong’s Derby can’t claim the world recognition of the Kentucky Derby, or the pedigree defining influence of the original Derby at Epsom, but it does have a unique impact and stands as the race the jurisdiction’s owners want to win most.

 

The connections of Furore celebrate winning the 2019 Hong Kong Derby. Photo by HKJC.

 

What makes the Hong Kong Derby unique is it’s for four-year-olds – where the vast majority of Derbies around the world are for three-year-olds – which means that cashed-up owners with what is called a Private Purchase Permit (PP) can scour the globe for horses that have shown talent as two and three-year-olds.

This year-round bloodstock buying spree creates a fascinating dynamic in Hong Kong’s Derby, which has developed into a melting pot of pedigrees. Nowhere else do elite prospects from both hemispheres square off on such a scale, and certainly not for such high stakes.

It isn’t just a share of the HKD$20 million mega-owners like the Kwoks and Sius are after, it is bragging rights and a place in history.

Both families have had their share of Derby contenders, and plenty of champions. The Kwoks currently have reigning two-time horse of the year Beauty Generation carrying their pink, black and white colours, while The Sius – with their distinctive black-and-red striped silks – most recent top horse was Time Warp – a two-time Group One winner.

As good as those horses are – and they come from the same crop – neither was good enough to win their Derby.

Beauty Generation did give the Kwoks their best finish in a Derby when third behind the mighty Rapper Dragon and enigmatic Pakistan Star in 2017.

Beauty Legacy could be the one, and judging by the patience, race placement and ingenious race tactics employed by Size, this preparation is all about the Derby.

 

Beauty Legacy won his first start in Hong Kong very impressively under Joao Moreira. Photo by HKJC.

 

When racing in Australia as Hawkshot, first with Darren Weir and then with David Hayes, Beauty Legacy did his best racing on the speed. Yet Size’s long-term vision ensured that a change of style was necessary upon arrival at Sha Tin.

In trials jockey Joao Moreira was instructed to drop Beauty Legacy back in the field in an effort to teach the horse to switch off and relax in the run – an attribute that is necessary for Derby winners.

Another unique aspect of the Hong Kong Derby is that it is contested over 2000m – at least 400m short of the stamina tests that most Derbies are designed to be. The Hong Kong Derby is also run on a two-turn course on which the starting gates sit precariously close to the first turn. That means the race shape is generally fast early as jockeys vie for an inside position, then slow through the middle stages down the back straight as riders attempt to conserve energy for a sharp sprint home.

That stop-start race shape means the Hong Kong Derby is as much a test of tractability, temperament and racing manners as it is stout breeding.

Beauty Legacy’s local debut unveiled a serious contender and was testament to Size’s careful management and Moreira’s deft execution.

Another masterstroke was entering Beauty Legacy in a 1400m Class Two in which there would be a solid enough tempo, rather than at a mile where the speed can slacken suddenly and result in a horse over-racing and wasting precious energy too early.

Drawn barrier 12, Moreira dropped Beauty Legacy back, stayed inside of horses and allowed the gelding to enjoy his racing – before unleashing a sprint. The resounding win that pushed the horses rating into triple figures, was a bonus really, the biggest result was that the horse raced like a Derby winner needs to – relaxed and under control.

Like Beauty Legacy, Private Secretary stormed to a first-up win in Hong Kong  – something very few PPs are able to do.  Thrown in against battle hardened older horses, and sometimes still struggling to acclimatise to the testing conditions, it can takes months for highly-rated imports to start showing their best.

 

Private Secretary announced himself as a Derby contender by winning at Happy Valley recently. Photo by HKJC.

 

This was the case with Time Warp, who wasn’t ready for the 2017 Derby, but flourished the following season.

Private Secretary’s local debut over 1650m at Happy Valley late last month showed all of the previously mentioned attributes needed in a Derby winner: early speed, tractability and an explosive turn-of-foot.

So what went wrong second-up when Private Secretary faded to finish tenth over a mile at Sha Tin next start?

It was a tactical misstep by either trainer or jockey Tony Piccone to push hard early in the race, which resulted in being part of a speed battle and Private Secretary’s competitive instincts kicking in. Private Secretary raced fiercely, burned up energy and had nothing left for the stretch run.

Hopefully for Cruz, Private Secretary’s bad manners don’t turn into bad long-term habits.

The traditional pathway to the Derby starts with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on January 27, but again the two diametrically opposed trainers have opted for different approaches.

Beauty Legacy will start as one of the leading chances in the race – but with his bigger target, the Derby, in mind, while Cruz will chart a path via handicaps with Private Secretary.

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