David Price’s ‘Moneyball’ approach delivers three Hong Kong Derby runners, including the two favouri
He’s certainly no stranger to big-race success, but bloodstock agent David Price is expecting a few sleepless nights as his nerves build ahead of Sunday’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Founded in 1997, Price’s Price Bloodstock operation has 826 Hong Kong wins to its name and has tasted Group One success with the likes of Silent Witness, Contentment and Ivictory, but the city’s most prestigious race has so far proved elusive.
“I’d have to say if there’s one thing in 30 years that we’ve been made well aware of, it’s where the Derby sits in the psyche of Hong Kong racing,” Price said.
“Even as the internationals have got bigger and bigger, I don’t think the Derby has lost its status among the owners. They want to win the Derby.”
It’s unlikely Price will get a better chance to add the Derby to his CV than this weekend, with hot favourite Beauty Eternal, second elect and Classic Cup winner Super Sunny Sing and Tuchel all sourced by his team.
“It’s a bit mind blowing. It’s pretty extraordinary to have three PPGs [private purchase griffins], especially when you consider two of them are going to wear numbers two and three and the other one is going to wear number six. It’s very exciting,” said Price, who has come up short in Derbies past with the likes of Champion’s Way, Nothingilikemore, Contentment, Very Fit and Golden Years.
“I think we’ve always gone into it with horses who’ve clearly had a question mark on their ability to run 2,000m. They’ve got to be in it, but you just knew deep down they wouldn’t see the trip.”
While many look to take a fast track to Derby glory by purchasing high-priced imports out of big races around the world, Price’s method involves finding reasonably priced yearlings at sales in Australia and New Zealand and using experienced trainers to get them up to speed before bringing those who look up to the task to Hong Kong as PPGs, which are previously unraced gallopers.
John Foote sourced Super Sunny Sing (A$48,000/HK$250,0000) and Beauty Eternal (A$90,000/HK$470,000) from the 2020 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale, while Merrick Staunton found Tuchel (NZ$130,000/HK$630,000) at Karaka in New Zealand.
“I love the movie Moneyball. If I had to feed a horse or put a saddle on a horse, number one it’d probably starve, and number two the jockey would come straight off. I’ve never worked in a stable or done anything like that. I’ve always been in front of a computer watching races and analysing. I like the lane that I sit in,” Price said.
“Having good buyers [is key]. They’re on the ground, they’re looking at every horse, they’re producing a list, and then we buy what we can. Then the boys at home train them. Tuchel ended up with the Hayes boys, Beauty Eternal with Jason Williams and Super Sunny Sing was Paddy Payne. There’s plenty of people involved to get to days like this and I’m always very grateful. It’s not a fluke, but it’s incredible to think three of them have actually got this far,” Price added, outlining how a change in approach may have contributed to his 2023 Derby hand.
“It’s easy to say we’ve probably always had a bit of a more sprinting-centric programme, but as time has gone on, we’ve just bought more horses.
“We’re buying more horses and probably saying to the buyers ‘let’s buy them’ if they find something they like who might want a mile or whatever.
“You can’t just keep having sprinters. It’s probably not a complete fluke that all of a sudden we’ve got some horses that want further. In saying that, [Super Sunny Sing] is by Nicconi out of a Rubiton mare, which I’m still trying to get my head around every time he steps up. I’m a bit of a breeding buff and even I can’t read that one.”
Super Sunny Sing is trained by Chris So Wai-yin, while it’s 11-time champion handler John Size who’ll be putting the final polish on Beauty Eternal and Tuchel.
If any of them – or one of the other PPGs in the field – salutes, it’ll be the fourth straight year a horse who was unraced before moving to Hong Kong has worked its way up from an initial rating of 52 to snare the Derby.
Owned by the powerful Kwok family, Beauty Eternal is the talk of the town after a string of impressive victories, but he enters the Classic Series and tackles 2,000m for the first time in the Derby. Price has been around long enough to know there’s plenty of water to go under the bridge yet.
“I’m sure John Size will be the first to admit this is very early in Beauty Eternal’s career,” said Price. “This time next year, he might be in the top three horses in Hong Kong, but he’s going into uncharted waters. He’s still a bit of a baby. I know everything about him is massively exciting, but it’s still not normal to do what he’s doing.
“I’d be the first to say that not in my wildest dreams did I think he would look as spectacular as he has. But he certainly has.”
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