Horse Racing
Butterfield enters BMW Hong Kong Derby reckoning

By David Morgan
02/02/2020 19:54

Butterfield wins the finale to stake a Derby claim.
Butterfield wins the finale to stake a Derby claim.

Butterfield took a stride forward on the road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) with a smart success in the Class 2 Azalea Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin this afternoon (Sunday, 2 February).

The race had been billed as something of a Derby trial, with six eligible runners in the field of 13, headed by the high profile trio Enjoying (122lb), Columbus County (121lb) and Super Oasis (123lb).

But it was trainer Danny Shum’s South American import – already a dual G1-winning Derby hero in Brazil when named Halston – who took the spoils and the kudos.

“The owner has nice expectations, he bought him from Brazil for nice money, not too expensive, but he’s a good horse,” Shum said.

“I have to see how he pulls up but I’m not sure whether or not he will already have enough rating points for the Derby – if he has, we might go straight there. But I’ll talk to the owner and we’ll make a decision whether or not we run in the Classic Cup next.”

The chestnut, rated 84 for today’s test, would meet the highly-regarded Hong Kong Classic Mile one-two of Golden Sixty and More Than This should he line up in the second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) in three weeks’ time.

Butterfield holds off Columbus County and High Rev.

Butterfield (120lb) snared his first Hong Kong win under a positive ride from Grant van Niekerk. The South African took a sit behind the front-running Classic Beauty (109lb), shifted out at the 400m mark and was soon in the clear.

The son of Setembro Chove was assailed on either flank close home but kept on strongly to win by half a length from the Caspar Fownes-trained Columbus County, with High Rev third and Super Oasis fourth.

“I told Grant to follow the leader because there was no pace in this race; he was drawn one and he got a slow pace so he could do that,” Shum said.

Van Niekerk is looking forward to future assignments, with Butterfield having shown improvement in the most recent three of five runs since import.

“I think he has ability and if he is a little further back in the run it won’t be a problem. He’s still learning about racing in Hong Kong and I think he’ll just keep getting better,” Van Niekerk said.

Butterfield could go straight to the Derby.
Butterfield could go straight to the Derby.

Shum revealed that a gelding operation four days after Butterfield’s first run this season has been key to his progress.

“Before he was gelded he was too keen and didn’t perform well but since he’s been gelded he’s calmer and he has run well his last two races,” he said.

Fownes, meanwhile, was a tad deflated with runner-up Columbus County who was sent off the 3.8 second-favourite.

“For me, he was disappointing because I thought at the 200 (metres) we had it covered, so I might have to think about whether he needs a pair of cups on,” the trainer said.

“He seemed to get there but didn’t really go on with it, so there’s a chance I’ll put a pair of blinkers or some change of equipment on him – I don’t think he’ll pull with that equipment but it might just have the desired effect when it matters.

“I thought we’d get the win today. Then again, you get beat half a length, you can’t complain too much!”

Columbus County could have new headgear for his next run.
Columbus County could have new headgear for his next run.

Fownes may side-step the Classic Cup in favour of a Class 2 2000m contest on the same day (23 February).

“I’m leaning towards going to the 2000-metre Class 2 rather than the Classic Cup next but I’ll have a think about it and we’ll obviously make the Classic Cup entry. His best racing is ahead of him and we just hope we can fine-tune him for the big day.”

Van Niekerk and Shum sealed a double together: Butterfield followed the earlier success of Clear Choice in the Class 3 Lily Handicap (1650m, dirt).

Another haul for Moreira

Moreira scores on the John Moore-trained Monica.
Moreira scores on the John Moore-trained Monica.

Joao Moreira grabbed his 31st Hong Kong four-timer, taking his tally at the top of the premiership to 69 and increasing his lead over rival Zac Purton to nine, with the season’s halfway point approaching fast.

Midway through his seventh season in Hong Kong, the ‘Magic Man’ has now bagged at least four wins in a day an incredible 52 times. That figure includes his local record of eight victories in one day.

The Brazilian was on fire from the programme’s start and made it three wins by race five when he edged trainer John Moore to within one of a 1,700th Hong Kong win, delivering the handler’s eye-candy grey gelding Monica (125lb) to a length and a quarter success over race favourite Super Elegance (122lb) in the Class 3 Daisy Handicap (1600m).

“I did see something in the papers about (1,700 wins) but I wasn’t really monitoring it, so it’ll be nice to get another win and leave a big number for other trainers in the future to chase. It’s a tough number – I’ve set the standard.”

“This is the first time we’ve tried the mile with this horse and Joao got off and said he’ll go further if we want to, but he’ll run on 23 February over a mile again and the ride will be offered to Joao again.”

Moreira gets Foodie Princess rolling on the turn.

Moreira had earlier taken his win strike rate for the Tony Cruz yard this term to 20 percent when he drove Supreme Witness late and wide to take the opener, section two of the Class 4 Orchid Handicap (1200m).

And he was on the board again two races later when Seize The Spirit swept from deep to take the Class 5 Rose Handicap (1400m). That was the rider’s second win for the Me Tsui stable this term at his 11th ride.

Moreira made it four in race six, the Class 4 Peony Handicap (1650m), aboard the Chris So-trained Foodie Princess. The three-time champion jockey had only four behind him with 500m to race but shifted wide and got a sweet tune from his mount to grind past his rivals and land the spoils by half a length.

Badel scorches on Flame

Alexis Badel takes the spoils on Inner Flame.
Alexis Badel takes the spoils on Inner Flame.

Alexis Badel has enjoyed a successful winter stint, and, with his contract up at the end of February, the Frenchman nailed a treble on the unbeaten Inner Flame (122lb) to take his running total to a meritorious 19 wins.

The Douglas Whyte-trained galloper had an awkward draw in gate nine and Badel found himself wide and facing the breeze from the off in the Class 3 Daffodil Handicap (1200m).

“I wanted to cross and get cover but I couldn’t find a spot on the inside,” he said. “The two leaders were slowing the pace into the bend, so I had no hesitation to let my horse keep rolling because he’s good enough to do it. It was my only option to get a deep breath into him before the effort – he needed to breathe so I couldn’t stay three-wide no cover.

“I trusted my horse – he’s still improving and a bit of a baby and he had to fight for the first time. He was a bit lost but he was good enough to fight and win.”

Runner-up Invincible Missile (133lb) headed the hat-trick scoring Inner Flame in the run home but the Zoustar chestnut rallied for his rider, who has struck up a profitable partnership with first-season handler Whyte.

Inner Flame digs deep to make it three wins on the bounce.

“There was no intention to lead but from gate nine, it was always going to be awkward,” the trainer said. “Alexis used his head and let him glide around the outside to the front and that breather he got in front was the difference between winning and losing.

“He dug down and put his head back in front – that shows he’s got a bit of courage. I think he’ll go back tonight and know that he’s had a race!”

Badel’s second success of the afternoon came on the John Size-trained Hong Kong Win in the Class 3 Cineraria Handicap (1000m). The four-year-old’s two prior wins had come at Happy Valley but his Sha Tin form wasn’t shoddy either and the gelding built on the promise of a fine third at the course and distance two starts back, behind Duke Wai, to snare the spoils by a neck.

Hong Kong Win nails a first win at Sha Tin.

Earlier, Badel judged the pace expertly as he guided Eight Trigrams to a maiden-breaking win at the 11th attempt, in section one of the Class 4 Orchid Handicap (1200m). The rider settled the David Hall-trained galloper prominently through comfortable fractions, kicked on into the straight and held off a bevy of closers by half a length.

Champion Jockey Zac Purton was on the mark aboard Joyful Heart, despite dropping his whip with about 350m to go in the Class 4 Peach Blossom Handicap (1400m). Frankie Lor’s charge ran on down the outer to score by a length and a quarter.

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 5 February.