Derby candidate Rocketeer’s ready for blast-off

Rocketeer will step out on the long road towards the BMW Hong Kong Derby in Saturday’s 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 opens his Hong Kong account in a Class 2 2000m race at Sha Tin last June, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

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.