Jockey Derek Leung is hopeful that giant grey Pingwu Spark can graduate to Group 1 company when he faces his first true heavyweight test in Sunday’s Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) at Sha Tin.
Tipping the scales at over 1,330 pounds, Pingwu Spark is the biggest horse in training in Hong Kong and has an engine to go with his robust frame, winning five of his six starts this season – two at 1200m and three at 1400m – to earn his spot against some of the best gallopers in town.
“He’s very honest and he’s had a fantastic season,” Leung said. “He’s just kept improving and now he’s earned his chance at a Group 1. It’s a big gap and he has to prove himself, but he’s a horse with potential and he’s an up-and-coming Group 1 horse, so we hope he can run super next weekend.
“Everything is spot on, I think. I trialled him last Tuesday (13 February) and he did it quite easily. So he’s in the right spot, he just needs to prove he is good enough.”
Leung, who currently sits in fifth in the Hong Kong jockeys’ premiership with 25 wins this season, says that when he first started working with the Benno Yung-trained Pingwu Spark almost a year ago, the son of Mastercraftsman was less a thoroughbred and more like another grey animal.
“When he first came to Hong Kong and we galloped him, I thought that he was an elephant and not a horse,” Leung said with a smile. “He was a big horse with a big action and he was quite relaxed, he’d walk around like an elephant. He didn’t show too much ability in the mornings, but then at the trials, he started to show more and he was quite professional. And then, when he ran for the first time, he was very good – no longer an elephant!”
Pingwu Spark and Derek Leung head for the finish for the gallopers' fifth win of the season at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
For 29-year-old Leung, though, it has been Pingwu Spark’s versatility this season that has allowed him to progress to Group company. He says that it has been most clear at his last two starts, when he has carried big weights to victory in Class 2 handicaps over 1400m.
“This season, though, he has shown so much,” Leung said. “He can challenge from the front, he can chase from behind, he’s got plenty of fight and will fight back, but he can also sprint. That’s where he has improved and that’s something very important for a horse when they are meeting the best horses around.”
Leung has also been associated with the John Moore-trained Beauty Generation this season, winning the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on the five-year-old in December. This time, Zac Purton takes the ride on Beauty Generation.
“It’s very difficult to compare the two,” Leung said. “Beauty Generation was very good to me this season, he gave me so much honour with Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1 wins. I’m very grateful to the trainer and the owners for their support. I hope he runs well this weekend and I hope he can run well in the future.”
Also among the 11 entries for the HK$10 million feature are G1 winners Helene Paragon, Peniaphobia, Beauty Only and Giant Treasure, as well as emerging talents Beat The Clock, Fifty Fifty and Southern Legend. Hong Kong Mile runner-up Western Express and Joyful Trinity, having his first run for Caspar Fownes, complete the probable line-up.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup is one of two G1 races at Sha Tin on Sunday, with the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup also on the card. The 2000m contest features an exciting clash between G1 winners Time Warp, Werther and Seasons Bloom, as well as the return of last season's BMW Hong Kong Derby and Audemars Piguet QEII Cup runner-up Pakistan Star.