Mission Tycoon gave the four-year-old pecking order a shake with a 91/1 triumph in the HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
“A little bit surprised,” was how trainer Frankie Lor summed up the shock win.
Hong Kong’s latest training sensation saddled three of the first four home in this second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, just as he had in the opening salvo, last month’s Hong Kong Classic Mile.
But, despite Mission Tycoon’s grand effort to take second in that contest four weeks ago, the game gelding was ignored in the market: stablemate Dark Dream, deemed an unlucky fourth in the Classic Mile, was sent off the 1.9 pick, while another Lor galloper Furore, the winner that day, was a 3.8 shot this time.
“We didn't care about the odds. He ran well last time, he ran second,” jockey Derek Leung said.
The rider was wise to dismiss the market: recent history has shown that longshots are not to be overlooked in a race that has tripped up plenty of BMW Hong Kong Derby candidates. In the past 11 seasons, seven horses have won at double figure odds and in 2013 the John Size-trained It Has To Be You lifted the silverware at a whopping 125/1.
“Today I was able to go forward without any pressure. Mission Tycoon switched off and that’s why he was able to finish at the end,” Leung said after the Australian import had made all for a career peak win.
Lor altered the Written Tycoon gelding’s headwear for this first race beyond a mile and the tinkering paid off.
“The 1800 metres is a little bit longer so that’s why I decided to change the gear,” he said. “Before, we used the blinkers, this time we used the visor. He got to the front, went his own pace and won the race.”
The win was a welcome fillip for Leung. The rider won the Tony Cruz Award last term as the season’s leading local jockey, an achievement that came off the back of a first major, atop Beauty Generation in the 2017 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. But this campaign has been tougher going, the ride on the Hong Kong champ having long since gone to Zac Purton and his win tally barely into double figures.
Leung now has another high-profile win on his résumé, a timely one at that, although he is fearful that the 2000m of the BMW Hong Kong Derby on 17 March might be beyond his mount’s stamina range.
“The distance will be a concern,” he said. “At the 1800 today he was switched off and behaved himself but he’ll need to be more mature and relax in a good spot to be able to stay the 2000 metres.”
Mission Tycoon and Derek Leung, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Lor’s Derby hand
Lor, meanwhile, heads into the Derby, the third and final leg of the Classic Series, with a seemingly dominant hand.
“All the horses ran well today,” he said. “Maybe the pace wasn’t fast enough for Dark Dream and Furore but next time the 2000 metres will be more suitable for them.”
Purton took that view too. He loomed into contention on Dark Dream only to finish a plugging second, a length behind the winner who registered a time of 1m 47.0s.
“He ran well,” the champion jockey said. “I was just hoping he’d be up for the fight in the straight but he was a bit one-paced. He gave the feeling today that he’s a mile and a half horse.”
Furore, so impressive when storming clear of the Classic Mile field, ran on from deep in the pack after drawing wide in gate 12.
“I’m very pleased with him,” jockey Hugh Bowman said. “He was just too far back from a wide draw but he’ll be right for the Derby.”
Ka Ying Star held his form, filling third place under Vincent Ho, just as he had in the Classic Mile, while his Tony Cruz-trained stablemate Helene Leadingstar stayed on for fifth.
The biggest Derby pointer may well have arrived four races before the Classic Cup, though, when the Size-trained Waikuku edged out the talented Good Standing to win the Class 2 Citi Wealth Management Services Handicap.
That battling win after racing three-wide throughout, completed a hat-trick of successes at 1400m for the Irish import, mimicking the path taken by last year’s Derby winner, the Size-trained Ping Hai Star.
“He had to do it the tough way being exposed three-wide without cover, facing strong competition,” jockey Joao Moreira said.
“The second is a very nice horse, going very well, and Waikuku didn't let us down. We think he’s a very good horse and once again he proved himself today. That was really good and will give us even more confidence going forward.”
Earlier on the card, Beauty Generation dominated the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and Exultant came out on top in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 20 February.