Ping Hai Star has emerged in recent weeks as a serious contender for the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and heads into Sunday’s feature with a ringing endorsement from the man who will partner one of his chief rivals.
“I think Ping Hai Star’s as good as any other horse in the race,” Joao Moreira said.
The Champion Jockey has held the gelding’s reins in five of his six Hong Kong races, including a hat-trick of recent wins that has lifted the New Zealand-bred to a rating of 103 and a place in the final leg of Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series. But with the Brazilian opting to stick with top-rated stablemate Nothingilikemore, Ryan Moore will fly in to take over.
“Ping Hai Star’s a very nice type of a horse; he’s talented, he’s got so much ability; he is a bit strong, he pulls a bit, but Ryan has soft and amazing hands, and if he can get him to relax in the race, I wouldn't be surprised if he’s the one dashing to run everyone else down,” Moreira continued.
“The only doubts are can he handle the distance and can he settle down? If he can and if he does it in a proper way, he’s going to be the one.”
Those ‘ifs’ are not insignificant at this stage, with each of Ping Hai Star’s three local wins achieved at 1400m and with trainer John Size having stated earlier this year that Ping Hai Star would be an unlikely Derby starter. Yet the son of Nom De Jeu has not only excited the Hong Kong racing faithful but has also satisfied his handler enough to earn a tilt at the HK$18 million pot.
“After he won three races in a row, I reconsidered my thoughts on the Derby,” Size said. “Last start, he did everything pretty correctly, we couldn’t wish for him to do anything better than that. So then, with his high rating of 103, I thought he deserved a shot at the race.”
Ping Hai Star (front) completes a hat-trick of wins earlier this month, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Despite his sire’s evident stamina - a heavy-ground victory in the G1 Australian Derby (2400m) was the son of Montjeu’s pinnacle - Size is conscious of Ping Hai Star’s habit of pulling in his races and the fact that his unraced dam is by the speedier Encosta De Lago. But anyone skimming the pedigree page for evidence of the requisite class and stamina might look to the bay’s second dam, a Runyon half-sibling to G1 VRC Australian Guineas (1600m) winner Delago Brom and G2 VRC Matriarch Stakes (2000m) heroine Brom Felinity, both sired by Encosta De Lago.
Ping Hai Star’s half-siblings include the G2 Wellington Guineas (1500m) winner Neo, by One Cool Cat, and the High Chaparral mare Tiffany’s, a five-time winner at 2000m and beyond in minor company in New Zealand.
“The 2000 metres is always a question mark, there is a query on a couple of horses in the race and my two are two of those,” Size said.
With the upcoming stretch to a mile and a quarter in mind, the champion trainer sent his charge around Happy Valley last Friday (9 March) for a 1700m barrier trial, only six days after his latest win. The former Queensland galloper (two wins from three starts pre-import when known as Ted) skirted to edge the lead down the back straight, with Moreira holding a tight rein, and cruised down the home run ahead of the rest.
“He hasn’t raced over the distance of the Derby so I trialled him over 1700m at Happy Valley to try and help him in his quest to pick up some prize money,” Size said.
As well as the 112-rated Nothingilikemore, successful in January’s Hong Kong Classic Mile, Ping Hai Star is set to face Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) one-two-three, Singapore Sling, Exultant and The Golden Age.
“The opposition’s OK, there’s plenty of opposition there,” Size observed. “It’s a strong race as usual. Five horses are rated over 100, so that tells you that they are good horses and still on the way up.”
The BMW Hong Kong Derby field also includes G1 winners Ruthven and Rivet from the John Moore stable.