David Hall hopes Atullibigeal can complete an unconventional preparation for the Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on March 19 when the galloper uses the Class 2 Lung Kong Handicap (1400m) on Saturday as a launching pad into the Classic.
Dropping in distance after last-start victory over 1600m at Sha Tin on 19 February, Atullibigeal could give Hall his third Hong Kong Derby runner after Ambitious General (fourth in 2008) and Ho Ho Khan (fifth in 2019).
To be ridden by Luke Ferraris this weekend, Atullibigeal (120lb) has drawn the outside gate of nine in a field headed by The Golden Scenery (135lb) and Fantastic Treasure (130lb) and while Hall considered a 1600m trial for the Street Boss gelding, he ultimately opted to send the four-year-old back to the races.
“It’s probably a bit of a different path going into the race, but he is a month between runs and he went from 1400 metres to 1600 metres and then jumping up to 2000 metres with a month between runs, I had to make the decision whether to run him or possibly give him a mile trial,” Hall said.
“I think eight days between the 1400-metre race to the Derby will just take the freshness out of him and help him get the 2000 metres is what I have decided to do and I’m pretty happy with that.
“He’s been a horse who’s been a bit highly-strung and we’ve worked on trying to make him relax and as you could see in his mile race (last start) he did that and that allowed him to finish off really strongly. If there’s a nice even tempo and he gets into a rhythm where he’s relaxed, I’ve got no doubt he’ll get the distance.
“He’s one of those horses who has always been talented and he’s built like a staying horse – he’s long and lean and very clean-winded. It was all about mentally getting him to switch off and relax before we could work out where he was going to take us and we’re very satisfied that he’s made the Derby. Now, we can find out how high he can jump.”
Beauty Eternal continued his build-up towards the BMW Hong Kong Derby with an unextended third in a 1200m trial at Sha Tin on Friday morning under regular rider Zac Purton.
Regarded by many as a potential top-liner after four wins from five starts, Beauty Eternal trailed fellow BMW Hong Kong Derby contender Tuchel across the line behind Jimmy Ting-trained sprinter Computer Patch, who held a seven and a half-length margin over the runner-up at the finish.
Caspar Fownes-trained Straight Arron was fourth in the cluster of Classic aspirants under Hugh Bowman, only a neck behind Beauty Eternal.
It was a similar tale in the second trial 1200m won by Beauty Tycoon in 1m 09.65s with Tony Cruz-trained Beautyverse crossing in fifth place, six and a half lengths behind the winner, while Size’s Sweet Encounter was seventh, seven and a half lengths away.
Chasing a fourth Hong Kong Derby triumph after Fay Fay (2012), Luger (2015) and Ping Hai Star (2018), 11-time champion trainer Size conceded he had been surprised by Beauty Eternal’s progress.
“Beauty Eternal has come along rather quickly and surprisingly. He’s come on the scene unannounced and he got through the grades very fast. He’s an exciting horse and he seems to have a lot of quality,” said Size, who will also saddle Tuchel and Sweet Encounter in the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
“When he started racing, it didn’t look like that (status as a leading Derby contender) but he had the right age and race by race he started to show an aptitude and a temperament that was suitable to go on that path. So, we’ve come pretty quickly to this point and I just hope he’s got the quality to carry it off.”
With 52 wins for the season so far, Vincent Ho needs only two more to reach 500 victories overall in Hong Kong, a feat achieved by only one other home-grown jockey – Tony Cruz, who amassed 946.