ANALYSIS: Hong Kong Classic Mile fails to solve Derby dilemmas

The Classic Mile was meant to provide some clarity around the 2023 Hong Kong Derby hopefuls but the tempo of the race has only added to the confusion.

Voyage Bubble and Jamie Kah gave nothing else a chance in the Classic Mile. (Photo by HKJC)

Michael Cox



Sunday’s Stewards’ Cup was a race that promised a lot – nothing short of legacy defining drama – and delivered. On the same day the Hong Kong Classic Mile held expectations that were more like, ’please just help us sort out these Hong Kong Derby contenders,’ and failed miserably. 

That is not to take away from winning jockey Jamie Kah’s moment, in fact it was her brilliant front running ride – delivered with such deft sleight of hand it was tantamount to stealing – that rendered the race near to useless from an analysis point of view. 

Even leading jockey Zac Purton, who had made a one-race commitment to Packing Treadmill for the Classic Mile and was hoping to swoop on a more suitable candidate for the Derby is now scratching his head. 

“I think everybody is the same, it’s hard to know what to make of that,” Purton told Asian Racing Report. “The way the race was run, the leaders just ambling at their own pace in front, meant it just made it impossible for anything outside of the top four. It was hard to assess anything from back in the field.” 

Purton at least knows for certain that Packing Treadmill is not his Derby date after a flat third behind Voyage Bubble and Tuchel, but he suspected as much anyway, and beyond that, what did we learn? 

Richard Gibson’s Cordyceps Six was this year’s obligatory sprinter thrown into the mile mix and stuck on for fourth, and the order didn’t change much behind him. 

The only horse to make significant ground in the second half of the race was Caspar Fownes’ Galaxy Witness, running home from 11th on the turn to finish fifth. 

If you watched the final 400m without any background and context – other than this is a 1600m Derby trial eight weeks out from a 2000m grand final – you could easily think Galaxy Witness was the horse to follow, and that Cordyceps Six will equip himself well at 1800m and beyond. 

That might be true … but buyer beware. The sectional times, in particular the pedestrian 48.5seconds for the first half of the race, show that making ground behind horses running home in 46.07s was impossible, especially for the true Derby types that need some time to get moving. 

With no fast speed to tax them, the two horses that were considered most suspect at the trip, were the ones that looked best because it was, in effect, a sprint. 

Anyway, a race that is meant to provide a guide gave us a riddle and not for the first time. Both Derby trials, the Classic Mile and Cup, are renowned for being run at slow or mixed tempos and not producing the kind of truly run guide punters and connections are looking for. 

So where do we find the Derby winner among this mess? Well, maybe the Derby winner wasn’t there at all. 

Interestingly, the jockey aboard the eye-catching Galaxy Witness, Vincent Ho, had already committed to Super Sunny Sing for the Classic Cup (1800m) on February 26. 

Now rated 84, Super Sunny Sing has won three in a row, the last over 1600m by three-and-a-half lengths on January 24. He has most likely gone up in the estimations of many judges by virtue of simply not being present for Sunday’s debacle.


Super Sunny Sing bolts in for Vincent Ho at Sha Tin on January 24. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Ho has been aboard for the horse’s last two wins, and even if that last start was in Class 3, he is bullish about Chris So’s prospect for the next two steps. 

“At 1800m and 2000m he will be very competitive, the way he is traveling so nicely and relaxed,” Ho told Asian Racing Report before dropping a name in comparison that will make any Hong Kong racing follower’s ears prick up. “The first time I rode him in a 1400m race, when he picked up on the corner he gave me a little bit of a feeling like Golden Sixty, even if they give you a little bit of feeling like that, they must be a bit special, I think he is a good horse.” 

Two of the classiest Derby winners of the last decade didn’t run in the Classic Mile or Cup, and both were trained by John Size: Luger (2015) and Ping Hai Star (2018). 

Size would have to top his incredible training efforts with those stars to get Beauty Eternal to the race, let alone win it, but the Kwok family-owned talent will step up to 1400m on February 12. Purton will be on board and if the horse were to win well off a mark of 74 it could put itself into Derby reckoning.

Beauty Eternal could be the wildcard in Derby calculations. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Beauty Eternal could back up two weeks later into the Classic Cup or, more likely, come via the “Collection Handicap” – the 105-80 ratings band Class 2 over 1800m two weeks before the Derby. 

In that case Purton will still be searching for his Classic Cup ride, just don’t expect him to waste time watching replays of Sunday’s Classic Mile trying to find it. 




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