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Will they or won’t they have the pedigree to stay the 2000-metre distance is a recurring question for any untried contenders going into a Hong Kong Derby but class is usually the determining factor.
Beauty Eternal and Super Sunny Sing posted performances at Sha Tin last Sunday that make them the top two contenders for the Hong Kong Derby in three weeks’ time, but as is the case every year, much of the talk around the race involves the question of which horses will see out the 2000-metre distance.
Super Sunny Sing impressed when winning the second leg of Hong Kong’s four-year-old series, the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1800m, while Beauty Eternal swept aside his elders in winning a Class 2 handicap over 1600m.
Both horses are PPGs, unraced at point of import. The make-up of Hong Kong racing is such that a PPG with Derby quality must ascend the handicap through the lower grades, usually starting out at 1000m or 1200m as they navigate Classes 4 and 3, stretching out over further ground as they move into Class 2 and emerge as genuine Derby prospects.
Beauty Eternal appears to be something out of the ordinary: his wins at 1200m, 1400m and a mile have been mightily impressive and suggest he is developing into a horse to rival the likes of Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and California Spangle.
Super Sunny Sing also has the look of a high-class runner in the making and jockey Vincent Ho prior to his Classic Cup success said that the gelding gave him a Golden Sixty kind of feel.
But both horses are by sires that made their names on the racecourse as Group 1-winning sprinters: Beauty Eternal is by Starspangledbanner, a G1 Caulfield Guineas winner at a mile as well as the 1100m G1 Oakleigh Plate in Australia, and victorious over 1200 metres in the G1 Golden Jubilee Stakes and G1 July Cup in Britain; Super Sunny Sing is by Nicconi whose Group 1 wins came in The Galaxy over 1100m and the 1000m Lightning Stakes.
Nicconi (outside), sire of Super Sunny Sing, was a high-class sprinter in Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
“Pedigrees aren’t everything,” Beauty Eternal’s jockey Zac Purton told Asian Racing Report. “Super Sunny Sing is out of a 1000-metre horse and by a 1000-metre horse and yet he ran a strong 1800 on the weekend.”
Purton makes a sound point, and it is often said in Hong Kong racing circles that a good miler can win a Derby at Sha Tin, a flat circuit where speed is necessary to prevail at the 2000-metre distance. Many a ‘stayer,’ like Giovanni Canaletto, Senor Toba, even Exultant, has fallen foul of the fast-slow-fast tempo of any given Hong Kong Derby.
“Last time I won the Derby on Luger they said he didn’t have the pedigree to run the trip, he was by Choisir,” Purton continued. “The real good horses can do things the average horses can’t and sometimes that might be stretching over a distance that normally wouldn’t be suitable, but because they’ve got that quality, they handle it.”
That is especially so at Sha Tin, and it can be seen in past champions Ambitious Dragon and Able Friend. Ambitious Dragon, a son of Pins, won a Derby and a G1 QEII Cup at 2000 metres but was brilliant at a mile and 1400 metres at the highest level; Shamardal’s son Able Friend was beaten narrowly in the Derby by a champion 2000-metre horse in Designs On Rome, but went on to be an exceptional miler and was, at one time, the highest-rated sprinter in the world.
Purton is confident that Beauty Eternal has the racing attributes and the pedigree to see out the 2000 metres. And he takes further confidence in the fact that last year he rode another son of Starspangledbanner, California Spangle, to finish a close second in the Hong Kong Derby before subsequently winning the G1 Hong Kong Mile.
The Coolmore stallion – a son of another G1-winning sprinter, Choisir – has had fertility issues but has produced quality offspring ranging from the precocious speedsters The Wow Signal, Millisle and Anthem Alexander to State Of Rest, winner of the G1 Cox Plate and the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 2000 metres. His stock is in demand by Hong Kong owners and his two colts that sold at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Sale in January – from his last Australian crop of just 38 foals prior to his relocation to Ireland – went to Hong Kong buyers George Moore Bloodstock for $425,000 (US$286,000) and Gary Ling for $300,000 (US$202,000).
Starspangledbanner (rail) winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2010. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)
Shane Crosse celebrates as he rides Starspangledbanner entire State Of Rest to victory in The Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
“I think Starspangledbanner can produce a horse that can comfortably run 2000 metres, and although Beauty Eternal was winning over 1200 metres, he never felt like a sprinter, it was just his class and in some respects his brilliance that enabled him to do that. He always felt like he was at least a miler and possibly beyond,” Purton said.
“And then he’s out of a Savabeel mare, so on his dam’s side he’s got a staying element to it there.”
Beauty Eternal’s fifth dam is Terlingua, whose son Storm Cat needs little introduction, being one of the most influential stallions of the past 35 years. His first dam, Ithacan Queen, has produced the G3-placed Sweet Sensation, a 1400m winner who found the 2000m at Group 1 level beyond her when down the field in the Vinery Stud Stakes.
But Ithacan Queen herself is out of the 2100m winner Bering Island, a Bering half-sister to the top-class 2000m runner Crowded House, as well as Heron Bay who won the King George V Handicap over 2400m at Royal Ascot.
“Looking at the way he relaxes, the way he gallops, and his pedigree, I don’t see how the 2000 metres is going to be a problem,” Purton said.
Beauty Eternal and Super Sunny Sing, like the Hong Kong Classic Mile winner Voyage Bubble – a AU$380,000 (US$255,700) son of another speed influence, Deep Field – are graduates of the 2020 Inglis Classic Sale. The two leading Derby hopes were snapped up by John Foote for the David Price Bloodstock machine, for just AU$90,000 (US$60,500) and AU$48,000 (US$32,300) respectively.
Beauty Eternal races in the silks of Patrick Kwok – made famous by the Hong Kong champion Beauty Generation – and Super Sunny Sing was acquired by Janice Wong, who had previously owned horses in partnership with her father Matthew Wong, he of the dark and light blue quartered colours carried by the likes of Goggles, Sunny Sing and Not Listenin’tome.
“It’s been a surprise,” said Super Sunny Sing’s trainer Chris So. “I thought the maximum he would go to would be 1600 metres, but he’s impressed us with how relaxed he is in the race, his character is so quiet when he races. His pedigree says he is a sprinter but he’s the special one that went further.”
Trainer Chris So and jockey Vincent Ho after Super Sunny Sing's Classic Cup victory. (Photo by HKJC)
Super Sunny Sing’s dam Red Centre raced only two times, as a juvenile at 1000m, and is out of the 900m and 1000m winner Land Of Dreams. Super Sunny Sing is the only one of Red Centre’s offspring to have won at a distance beyond 1400 metres. Speed is clearly the family’s thing but perhaps Super Sunny Sing is something of a throwback to Red Centre’s sire, Rubiton, who won a Cox Plate and sired a Cox Plate winner in Fields Of Omagh.
“I think he should handle the 2000 metres, you can see the way he travelled, he relaxed, he’s calm and that’s why Vincent said before the race that the horse feels like Golden Sixty,” said So.
“When we trialled him we still thought he was a sprinter, but that first race over 1000 metres, he reared up and he hit his head in the gate and ran no good. Next start we went to 1200 because he had a trial in between and it seemed like he needed further: Joao Moreira felt that the horse should go further, and that’s why the first win was at 1200 metres. Even at 1200, 1400 and 1600, he couldn’t catch up with the early pace and at 1800 he was so relaxed and then finished off so strongly.”
So believes the barrier draw will be a more important consideration, with the short run from the gate to the first bend being a scramble to find a position. He is then banking on his charge’s relaxed racing manner and ability to carry him through the distance.
Purton knows all about drawing a bad gate. He overcame that disadvantage on Luger, a horse with similarities to Beauty Eternal in that he went into the Derby having stepped up to a mile for the first time in his lead-up race.
“I drew an outside gate and rode the race as it came,” he recalled. “Luger had been running over 1400 metres and had one run at a mile then straight to the 2000 metres of the Derby, so he didn’t have the ideal Derby prep either.”
Zac Purton wins the 2015 Hong Kong Derby on Luger. (Photo by HKJC)
Beauty Eternal has been winning with a leg in the air. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)
Beauty Eternal has raced just five times and was scratched from two of his intended starts, in November and January, firstly with a hoof issue and then when he ditched Purton going to post.
“He’s quite a tricky horse,” the champion jockey revealed. “In the mornings going around, he’s always swishing his tail and quite often fly-leaps in the air and sometimes gets his head down a little bit. He has to be led to and back from the track so he’s got a bit of a streak in him, you’ve got to be careful. But that might also be that he was just fresh and he’s needed a bit of racing to settle him.”
Whatever Beauty Eternal’s quirks, during his races he has looked an ideal athlete, showing sharp early toe to take a position, settling easily into a rhythmic, high cruising speed, then stretching out with a ground devouring finishing kick.
He and Super Sunny Sing are by speedy sires, but that could prove to be neither here nor there when Derby day comes around.
Deep Field’s fertility issues give his stock the scarcity factor
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