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2023 Hong Kong Derby Rankings: our expert panel rate this year’s contenders

In the first of an ongoing series, our team of ten Hong Kong racing experts rank their top 14 Hong Kong Derby candidates in order.

Derby aspirants Beautyverse (pink cap) and Keefy go head-to-head at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Welcome to the first edition of Asian Racing Report’s Hong Kong Derby Rankings.

Our team of ten Hong Kong racing experts have ranked the top 14 Hong Kong Derby candidates in order.

We will regularly update the rankings between now and the 2023 Hong Kong Derby, which will take place at Sha Tin on March 19.

Hong Kong’s Derby is a unique race: for four-year-olds over Sha Tin’s tricky two-turn 2000m course, it is the race around which an entire jurisdiction revolves.

Because the race is for four-year-olds, Hong Kong owners can source elite candidates from age-restricted races around the world – so-called “Private Purchases” (PPs) – or bring in unraced horses, called Private Purchase Griffins (PPGs), that can work their way up through the grades.

Either way, the race is on from the moment the horses arrive in Hong Kong to be ready for the ‘once in a lifetime race’. 

The Derby path gets serious later this month when the Hong Kong Classic Mile pits the four-year-old against each other at 1600m, before they step up to 1800m in the Hong Kong Classic Cup. 

The questions our experts will be weighing up in the lead-up to the Derby centre around stamina and class – can a top miler beat a genuine stayer at 2000m? Then there is acclimatisation: many a Derby contender has eventually gone on to superstardom, but will they be ready in time for the big day?  

Michael Cox provides a run-down on each horse, as ranked in order by our expert panel (official rating in brackets):

1. Packing Treadmill 包裝必勝 (93)

An Australian PPG, Packing Treadmill has worked his way from a rating of 52 to 93 in less than 12 months to be the top candidate of the class of 2023.

Will jump favourite in the Classic Mile after winning three from three this year, including last start at 1600m, but there are question marks about his ability to get further.

2. Beautyverse (ex Jungle Magnate) 美麗宇宙 (88)

For all of the money Simon Kwok and his family have spent on the ‘Beauty’ horses, the famed pink, black and white silks have never been carried to Derby glory. Beauty Generation was third behind Rapper Dragon and Pakistan Star in 2017, and Beauty Only was sixth behind Luger in 2015 after winning the Classic Mile. Surely it is only a matter of time before they strike. 

Beautyverse won the 2022 South Australian Derby for Mick Price and Michael Kent and while that race has never been a great pointer to Hong Kong Derby success, this year’s crop may lack strength. Won first-up then disappointed, but seems to be headed in the right direction again. No distance concerns, acclimated and ready to contend. 

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Jungle Magnate wins the Mornington Guineas. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

3. Keefy 瑪瑙 (100)

Brings modest Australian form for a Derby contender and may lack the flashiness of his rivals but has acclimatised quickly and is the top rated of the four-year-olds aimed at the Derby. In a year when many of the northern hemisphere candidates seem behind in their preparations, those factors could count.

4. Sweet Encounter 魅力知遇  (86)

Did the bubble burst with a last start defeat or was it merely a speed bump on his way to Derby glory? Sweet Encounter debuted this season and had won four from five to rise 32 points in the space of 77 days. Voters are split over his defeat as 1.4 favourite to Drombeg Banner last weekend, a horse he was giving 25 pounds to, but would meet at level weights in the Classic Mile.

5. Sword Point 知足常樂 (84)

Another Australian import who lacks the resume of past Derby heroes, Sword Point made his case with a strong win at Sha Tin last Sunday. No distance concerns and already acclimatised, the question for this horse is class.

Sword Point won in good style at Sha Tin for Hugh Bowman. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

6. Flagship Warrior (ex Harleymoven) 旗幟鬥士 (84)

A four length win in a Listed race over 1800m put this Australian on the radar of Hong Kong owners and although he was unplaced behind Beautyverse in the South Australian Derby, 2000m is not a problem. That is why Flagship Warrior’s spectacular first-up victory over 1200m was such a great sign.

That was on December 24 though, and Flagship Warrior is late starting. Still, if David Hayes can continue to progress his import, he could be a big mover in the rankings after the Classic Mile.

7. Viva Chaleur (ex Trident) 爆熱 (84)

It is no surprise that Viva Chaleur is attracting the attention of some big name jockeys. Formerly with Andre Fabre, Viva Chaleur was second to top European two- and three-year-old sprinter Perfect Power in the G1 Prix Morny. He was then second to Modern Games in the G3 Tattersall Stakes at Newmarket. Modern Games has won two Breeders’ Cup races, a Woodbine Mile and was second to Baaeed in the Sussex Stakes since. 

There is no questioning the form, it is just a matter of acclimatisation and Viva Chaleur is moving in the right direction after three starts. The Classic Mile will tell us more.

8. Bon’s A Pearla 一代天嬌 (80)

David Hayes famously won the 2003 Hong Kong Derby with a filly, Elegant Fashion, and he will try and do it again with Bon’s A Pearla. 

Hong Kong only has a handful of fillies and mares – sometimes even none – among its 1200-or-so horse population. The transition to Sha Tin is tough, and there are no sex-restricted races. Bon’s A Pearla’s best Australian form stacks up – a third in the Australian Guineas behind Hitotsu stands out – but this is again a question of adapting to a new environment.

9. Tuchel 自勝者強 (77)

A typical John Size-trained PPG, Tuchel is a sleeper pick and ranked high with some of our panel.

Tuchel won first-up this season to put himself in the ratings picture for the four-year-old series but suffered a setback when found lame before a Class 3 in mid-October.

Tuchel winning at Sha Tin in September. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

He returns in a crucial 1400m on Sunday at Sha Tin, drawn 14 with Zac Purton aboard. If he runs through the line strongly, you sense Size will persist, but needs to take another step.

10. Sinba 開心寶貝 (79)

Sinba wasn’t up to G1 company in Australia but is in winning form and more forward than some of his better credentialed rivals at this stage.

Freshman trainer Jamie Richards will be keen to have a presence in the four-year-old series but Sinba might lack the ultimate upside required to contend.

11. A Pal 添濼意 (78)

Attracting attention through consistency more than class, it is going to take a serious leap for this Australian import to figure in the Derby. Runs in the Class 2 on Sunday January 15. 

12. Drombeg Banner 飛鷹翱翔 (75)

This horse’s Irish sprint record didn’t look like Derby form but a shock all-the-way win against his fellow four-year-olds over 1600m put him in the ratings territory required to make the Classic Mile field.

First-year trainer Pierre Ng is having a great season and would be keen to play a part in the four-year-old series.

13. Galaxy Witness 喜旺駒 (82)

Looked a Classic Mile type as he stormed through an impressive first season in which four straight wins took his rating into Class 2. Hasn’t won in five starts since and Sunday’s Class 2 over 1400m is a test to see if the one-time boom horse will take his place in the Classic Mile.

14. Straight Arron 直線力山 (77)

A Group 3 winner with Chris Waller in Australia, and lightly raced with just four starts, Straight Arron profiles like a horse with higher upside than some higher in the rankings, but needs to improve dramatically off a flat first-up effort to be a contender. Runs in the Class 3 on Sunday January 15, which will provide a further guide. 

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