Ping Hai Star (Ryan Moore) races away with the Hong Kong Derby. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club.
New Zealand-bred Ping Hai Star made Hong Kong Derby history with a sparkling last-to-first performance in yesterday’s BMW-sponsored Sha Tin showpiece.
The Nom Du Jeu gelding became the first horse to ever win the HK$18 million feature without a previous victory over 1600 metres or further.
Ping Hai Star had won his last three starts in a row, all over 1400 metres, and it was only the most recent of those that put the idea of the Derby into trainer John Size’s head.
“The last time he raced, I saw something that I liked about him as far as a Derby prospect was concerned,” Size said.
“He came from the tail of the field, he settled quite nicely, he was very happy to reel off some quick sectionals at the end of the race. The only gamble was whether he was fit enough and had the stamina to run 2000 (metres) with his inexperience.
“I backed him up quickly into a trial at Happy Valley and I was very satisfied with all that, and then it was just a matter of coming to the races and hoping that the race unfolded and was run to suit him.”
Ridden yesterday by champion English jockey Ryan Moore, Ping Hai Star dropped out to a clear last in the 14-horse field before unleashing a powerful finishing burst in the straight. He roared past the favourites Singapore Sling and Exultant and raced clear to win by a length and three-quarters.
Ruthven, the winner of last year’s Queensland Derby, was fourth.
“He’s a very talented horse, I had great fun riding him today,” Moore said.
“It wasn’t really the plan, to be that far back, at all. I just felt I’d ride him with lots of confidence – I believed before the race that he was the one horse that could have more class than anything else in the race, and I think that showed.
“He’s just a high-quality horse with a very good turn of foot; when you get on him he’s a big, solid, strong horse, very powerful underneath you. Someone pointed him out to me back in January actually – said he’s a good horse. He ran that trip no problem at all.”
Ping Hai Star has now won four of his seven starts and more than H$14.4 million (NZ$2.5 million) in prize-money.
Ping Hai Star was bred by Queensland-based Glenn and Lisa Morton, who have raced a number of quality horses with Cambridge trainer Murray Baker including Nom Du Jeu.
The Hong Kong Derby hero’s dam is the Encosta de Lago mare Vicky, whose other progeny include the Gr. 2 Wellington Guineas winner Neo.
Ping Hai Star is the second Hong Kong Derby winner in the last three years with connections to Sam and Libby Bleakley's Highden Park, following in the footsteps of multiple Group One winner Werther, whose dam Gobstopper lives at the property. Highden also raised this year’s Hong Kong Mile winner Beauty Generation.