ROCKETEER will step out on the long road towards the BMW Hong Kong Derby in Saturday’s (October 14th) Sha Tin feature, the Class 2 Hakka Cup Handicap (1600m).
Plenty of turf will pass under hooves before this season’s leading four-year-olds line up for that 2000m March feature but jockey Tommy Berry is pleased with the Australian import ahead of his first run this term.
“He’s at the head of our Derby hopes at the moment; he’s the one that’s up and going,” Berry said, referencing the four-year-old classic team his boss, trainer John Moore, has assembled.
“I reckon he’ll run really well, he’s really caught my eye this horse; he’s a big, strong individual, he gives you a great feel, he covers the ground very nicely and his work’s been sensational since I got here,” Berry continued.
Rocketeer (126lb), seventh in the G1 Victoria Derby (2500m) a year ago, raced five times in Hong Kong last term. The Smart Missile gelding found his feet in June, at start four, with a promising Class 2 win at 2000m and rounded out his campaign with a decent second at the same course and distance. Berry is not too concerned about the step back to a mile.
“I expect a bold showing from him first up - obviously he’ll improve once he gets over a little bit further but he’s got a bit of speed in his legs to run well,” he said.
Berry’s only previous race ride on Rocketeer came at the bay’s second start in Hong Kong when a forgettable 11th.
“I didn’t even realise I’d ridden him,” Berry said. “I went back through his form two or three days ago and saw I’d ridden him and watched the replay. He’s a completely different horse; he was very raw, very green when I rode him back then. I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him at all but he’s really made that big improvement.”
Rocketeer faces 12 rivals in a hot Class 2 contest that also features last start winner Citron Spirit (120lb). Ricky Yiu’s charge saw off the re-opposing Solar Hei Hei (127lb) to win first-up at 1400m three weeks ago under Chad Schofield and scored at the course and distance last term.
“He was very well-prepared first-up at 1400 (meters): the mile is the better distance for him, though,” Schofield said. “He certainly hasn’t gone backwards since his win; he’s drawn a lovely gate (1) and should get a simple run. If he can show the same sort of turn-of-foot at the end of his race he’ll be right in at the finish again.”
The John Size-trained Eastern Express heads the weights on 133lb, while Consort (122lb), G1-placed in the UK pre-import, will attempt to break his Hong Kong maiden at start 10. The Size-trained Encounter (122lb), winner of the G2 German 2,000 Guineas in 2016, was an encouraging sixth to Citron Spirit last start, while Classic Emperor (117lb) and Friends Of Ka Ying (120lb) were second and third to Sichuan Dar over 1650m at Happy Valley in September.
Dirt test for first-up Giant
The afternoon’s other Class 2 contest is the Hakka Culture Handicap (1200m) on the all-weather track. The well-regarded Little Giant (119lb), unbeaten in two outings pre-import, has notched a win and a third from two Hong Kong starts to date. The David Hall-trained five-year-old is first-up for the season.
“His preparation’s been good, he’s continued to work well and his barrier trial was good so it’s good to have him back at the races,” jockey Zac Purton said.
The bay has not raced on Sha Tin’s dirt surface. “When you get into Class 2 there aren’t too many options so unfortunately we’ve had to run in this race. He’s trialled well on the dirt,” Purton added.
Schofield will ride Dragon Master (117lb) in the 12-runner contest. Michael Chang’s charge has four wins to his name, all down the straight 1000m track. But the useful five-year-old has posted a couple of decent efforts on the all-weather, including when a running-on third behind the re-opposing Dragon General (124lb) at the course and distance last month.
“I think he’s a good chance in an open race,” Schofield said. “I thought his last run was full of merit, he closed well and now he goes up in class with a lighter weight. He’s proven he likes the dirt - there are a number of decent horses in the race but he’s going well, I rode him in the week and he feels great in his action so he’s going to get his chance.”
The competitive field also features last start winners Convincible (130lb) and Wah May Friend (130lb), as well as six course and distance scorers.
Saturday’s 10-race card starts at 1pm with the Class 5 29th World Hakka Conference Handicap (1600m) and concludes with the Class 3 Hakka Spirit Handicap (1400m) at 5.45pm.