Secretary stakes early HK Derby claim
Did we see a new star at Happy Valley on Boxing night?
Private Secretary is being talked up as a potential BMW Hong Kong Derby winner after his snug success under Vincent Ho but it's worth delving a little deeper into Thursday's Class 2 Ma Wan Handicap over 1650m.
Private Secretary came to HK with a strong profile as a choicely-bred son of Kingman who won in Listed company before finishing fourth in Japan's King Edward VII Stakes for John Gosden.
Making a winning debut at Class 2 level in HK is very tough, but Private Secretary travelled powerfully and needed just one tap to master a field including several Valley specialists and a couple of other Derby aspirants.
Winning trainer Tony Cruz has won the March Classic twice and feels Private Secretary "has been my Derby horse from day one."
The Derby trip of 2000m should yield further improvement, but Cruz is aggressive and surely won't be shy about keeping his new recruit to shorter distances for the Classic Mile at Sha Tin on January 27th.
Time test suggests Private has more to prove
Private Secretary scored off a HK mark of 87 on Thursday and will be in the mid 90's once reassessed.
The Classic Mile and the 1800m Classic Cup on February 23rd will give him ample chance to achieve the 100 plus mark needed to stake a persuasive Derby claim but it's also worth making a couple more points.
Private Secretary weighed in at just 1002lb for his HK debut, which is light for a Cruz horse and much lighter than most of HK's elite. It seldom pays to be dogmatic about these things, but it will be interesting to see how he develops physically over the next few months.
In addition, a low draw confers a handy edge over 1650m at the Valley and Private Secretary enjoyed the perfect saloon passage from stall 1. He won’t always enjoy such smooth sailing, while the evidence of the clock is also of interest.
Split times show Private Secretary ran his race very efficiently in an evenly-run contest. But his final time of 1m 39.82s was only a tick faster than Magnificent recorded over the same trip half an hour earlier. And the fact that last year's Britannia third obliged off a mark of just 70 is well worth noting before anointing Private Secretary as the next big thing.
Silvestre aiming to up the pace
Silvestre de Sousa hasn't been able to match last season's impressive strike rate over the last two months but Sunday's card provides several chances to up the pace.
Runaway Valley winner Big Party will be a warm order for the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy at 7.20 but Frankie Lor's grey has a somewhat chequered profile and is up in class and down in distance on his second run in eleven days.
Former Tom Dascombe sprinter Big Time Baby is a solid alternative after an impressive AW win, while de Sousa climbs aboard John Moore's Thanks Forever for the first time and can expect a bold effort from a horse who looks fairly treated after a fine second over 1200m.
Big Time Baby could be Dubai bound if he shines on Sunday and Elusive State will enhance his claims for a place at the Saudi Cup meeting if he can improve his excellent AW record in the 8.25.
Tony Millard's gelding is useful on turf but Sha Tin's dirt suits him particularly well and he forged clear of Buddies, Turin Star and Raging Blitzkrieg over course and distance under Moreira in October.
The freewheeling Buddies looks a live player again with a 7lb pull but Elusive State has been relentlessly progressive on this surface since joining Tony Millard and looks poised to go very well again despite his big weight.
Young guns fire as Valley year comes to an end
So much for the theory that HK racing is dominated by a handful of star riders.
Joao Moreira, Zac Purton and Karis Teetan have won 125 of 283 races run this season but eight of nine Boxing Night contests at Happy Valley fell to three young guns who have plenty to look forward to in 2020.
Alexis Badel's progress was flagged up in the last edition of HK Diary and the Frenchman enjoyed a night to remember with three consecutive winners including a first success for champion trainer John Size and another winner for the upwardly mobile Douglas Whyte courtesy of Victory Power.
Full marks for Badel as Whyte link blooms
Vincent Ho remains clear fourth in the table after a sealing a double aboard Private Secretary, while South African Grant Van Niekerk is fifth after emulating Badel with a festive treble completed when Winning Method went from pillar to post in the nightcap.
Badel and Niekerk have been in HK long enough to take nothing for granted and will be well aware that Moreira, Purton and Teetan will be as hungry and effective as ever in the new year.
However, 13-times champion Whyte knows a good rider when he sees one and his link with Badel has now yielded four winners and three places from just eleven rides.
Alexis rode a 10 out of 10 race," he said. "I've ridden against Alexis and I've seen his assets. He's got a lovely pair of hands on him and once he gets a horse rolling, they tend to keep rolling."
Schofield set for dry January
The stewards had a busy night at the Valley and their deliberations proved costly for Chad Schofield, who will miss most of the January programme due to a six-meeting ban imposed for his part in a row with Karis Teetan.
Schofield was found guilty of improper riding on Flash Famous for causing sustained interference to Teetan aboard Pretty Bauhinia in the middle section of the Tsing Yi Handicap and salt was rubbed into the wound by way of a £3,000 fine for initiating a physical altercation in the weighing room afterwards.