Pursuing a fourth BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) triumph at Sha Tin on Sunday (19 March), John Size is cautiously optimistic after leading Classic contender Beauty Eternal drew in the middle of the field.
Victorious with Fay Fay (2012), Luger (2015) and Ping Hai Star (2018), Size is represented by three runners - Beauty Eternal, Tuchel and Sweet Encounter - on Sunday but the nature of Beauty Eternal`s searing rise through the classes under Zac Purton means the Starspangledbanner gelding has become the arbitrary benchmark of this season`s four-year-old crop.
Reflecting on the exciting chestnut`s draw in barrier seven, Size said: “I think it`s fine, Zac has options from there and I`m sure that he`ll have a better idea of what he wants to do according to who`s drawn around him, but I think seven is fine. It wouldn`t seem like it`s any great disadvantage.
“It depends on the horse itself actually as to how important the gate is and then, of course, the running of the race determines the value of the draw. I think most races it`s nice to get a good gate where your horse can get a proper opportunity and show his worth.”
Winner of his past three starts and four out of five overall, Beauty Eternal has soared from a mark of 52 to 94 in his first preparation, which has been anything but seamless because of injury and two race-day scratchings.
His startling progress, capped by a blinding win against Class 2 rivals over 1600m on 26 February, has surprised even 11-time trainer Size.
“This target (the Derby) has come up rather quickly for him. He could have had a better preparation in terms of having more races but, as I have alluded to before, you never know what`s good or bad in the way of preparation,” Size said.
“He`s had a couple of interruptions that might have helped him get to this race whereas if he`d had a couple more runs, he might not have. So, you have to deal with what you`ve got and, at this point, I`m happy to go into the race. He seems in very good order. He hasn`t changed much since his last race and he handled that okay.
“The more they race, the more stress they`re under and more likely to be affected so, by actually missing a race has probably mentally helped.”
Purton and Size last shared BMW Hong Kong Derby success with Luger.
Englishman Ryan Moore will team with Size`s Tuchel, hopeful of emulating Ping Hai Star`s victory five years ago and Size is satisfied with the Redwood gelding`s draw in barrier one.
“I`m not too concerned about him being on the rail because he`s got the pace to follow the leaders. He`s not going to be back in the field or midfield,” Size said of the four-time Hong Kong winner.
“He`s coming along nicely. He also had a major interruption a few months ago. He looks to be going into the race in pretty good shape. He`s a little bit fitter than he was three weeks ago.”
Size`s contingent is completed by Sweet Encounter, who has landed in gate two for Luke Currie.
After stringing together four wins from his first five Hong Kong assignments, Sweet Encounter`s form tapered in the first two legs of the HK$48 million Four-Year-Old Classic Series, finishing eighth in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on 29 January and 11th in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 26 February.
“Physically, he`s been fine. (Recently), he hasn`t been finishing off. We`ll run in him blinkers to help him concentrate. We`ve seen him run 1800m (winning on 11 December, 2022) and he`s looked like a stayer,” Size said.
Hong Kong Classic Cup winner Super Sunny Sing will strive to give Chris So his first BMW Hong Kong Derby success while chasing a fifth consecutive victory at the weekend.
To be ridden from Vincent Ho, who is one win shy of 500 Hong Kong victories, Super Sunny Sing will start from barrier nine.
“It`s okay, not too bad at all,” So said of the draw. “On the A track, from draw nine there are a lot of winners. But for Beauty Eternal, it seems like draw seven is the highest percentage of winners.
“I need to study it but, at the moment, I`m happy with the draw. It will depend on the pace but I think draw nine is not too bad, but we will let Vincent do the job. I honestly don`t know what sort of pace to expect but normally in the major races, the pace is a bit slow.
“That`s why we will let Vincent do the job - he is the main guy come the race.”
Hong Kong Classic Mile winner Voyage Bubble fared worst at the draw, landing in gate 14 for Ricky Yiu and Alexis Badel, while Galaxy Witness (gate three) drew well for Caspar Fownes and Damian Lane.
Frankie Lor will saddle Keefy (barrier five) for Derek Leung and Sword Point (gate six) for Hugh Bowman in the 14-horse field.
Sunday`s (19 March) meeting starts with the Class 4 Sky Darci Handicap (1200m) at 1pm.