Dubai World Cup cancelled, racing to cease in New Zealand and Golden success in Hong Kong Derby

On one side of the world on Sunday, March 22nd, 2020, one Asian Racing Federation member had to cancel their yearly showcase meeting, the Dubai World Cup, on the other side another Asian Racing Federation member held one of its premier races, the Hong Kong Derby.

This was followed on Monday with the announcement from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing that following the announcement that New Zealand would move to level 4 of the COVID-19 alert system in 48 hours this means that all racing will cease in New Zealand for the next four weeks from Tuesday, March 24th, 2020.

On Sunday the Dubai Racing Club advised that to safeguard the health of all participants during the Covid-19 virus world pandemic, the higher organising committee of the Dubai World Cup had decided to postpone the 25th edition of the global event to the next year.

“Further to the UAE Government’s precautionary measures against the virus, we believe it is our duty to help protect the well-being of residents and guests,” said the Club in a statement.
“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to all the stakeholders of the Dubai World Cup, and we hope to welcome all participants and guests next year.”

The meeting was to be held at Meydan on Saturday, March 28th, 2020.

At Sha Tin on Sunday the Hong Kong Jockey Club conducted the Hong Kong Derby meeting in the same manner as it has being operating since late January, without patrons on-course.

The feature result from the meeting was success for trainer Francis Lui and jockey Vincent Ho with Golden Sixty (AUS) in the HK$20 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) to complete a brilliant whitewash of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Classic Series.

Golden Sixty and Vincent Ho winning the Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Golden Sixty and Vincent Ho winning the Group 1 BMW Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

The victory was a first in the race for Ho, 29, who ended a run of outs for ‘homegrown’ riders in the ‘blue riband’ going back to 1995; it was also a first Derby for trainer Francis Lui and owner Stanley Chan, and the first time in the professional era – since 1971 – that a native Hong Kong trainer, jockey and owner combined for victory.

“I think I can sleep well tonight, all the pressure on my shoulders has just gone,” Ho said after he had driven the 1.7 favourite to a flashing neck win over the 289/1 shot Playa Del Puente.

The jockey deserves his night of peace, as does Golden Sixty. The brown gelding quickened from 11th at the top of the straight through a run that was, in equal measure, brilliant dash and depth-mining resolution.

His closing 400m split was completed in a lung-taxing 21.83s, the fastest at the course and distance since Designs On Rome clocked 21.82s in the 2014 Jockey Club Cup. Golden Sixty’s final sprint ensured a race record time of 2m 00.15s – but anything less would have brought nothing but a gallant defeat.

Lui admitted to being “excited and panicked” when Ho angled Golden Sixty from behind horses into a wide alley, at least six lengths behind Playa Del Puente. The runner-up had made an audacious burst clear of the pack under Blake Shinn.

“Round the bend, they slowed down the pace and that’s why the other horse was able to run away but Golden Sixty showed excellent acceleration. I was worried but I could see Golden Sixty was trying very hard,” Lui explained.

Ho could do nothing but sit and wait when Shinn opted to roll Playa Del Puente from last to first, between the 900m mark and the 700m point. That move saw Golden Sixty shuffled back to the rear behind a tempo that had steadied for a sprint home.

Shinn’s exquisite move gave him the edge, but Ho kept his cool.

“I didn't mind the tempo – fast or slow – as long as my horse was relaxed and I knew I had to wait until the last bit to ask my horse to pick up. He’s got the best turn-of-foot in the field and I just had to be patient,” he said.

Golden Sixty became only the second horse, after Rapper Dragon in 2017, to win all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series. The win followed his successes in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).

The win meant that he took his place as one of only four Hong Kong-born jockeys to have won the Hong Kong Derby in the past 50 years, and the first since Tony Cruz scored on Makarpura Star in 1995.

Lui, 61, was delighted to have finally won the Derby after 25 years as a trainer.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “I’m very happy – I have to say thank you to my stable team.”

Lui will now look to FWD Champions Day on April 26th, 2020, at Sha Tin with options in the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) and Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).

Meanwhile, as with Hong Kong, racing continues in other Asian Racing Federation jurisdictions such as Australia, South Africa, Singapore and Japan without patrons.

The first Grade 1 of the Japanese spring season, the ¥281,800,000, Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) at Chukyo, will be held on this Sunday, March 29th, 2020.