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It’s Ambitious to win a Hong Kong Classic Cup without running in a Classic Mile

Classic Series gatecrashers Encountered, Majestic Colour, Sinba and hat-trick scorer Super Sunny Sing have 11 seasons of history against them in Sunday’s Hong Kong Classic Cup (1,800m) at Sha Tin.

Not since Tony Millard’s greatest galloper, Ambitious Dragon, upset odds-on favourite Lucky Nine to win the 2011 Classic Cup by one and three-quarter lengths under Maxime Guyon, has a Classic Mile non-runner triumphed in the Classic Series second leg.

Ambitious Dragon, a subsequent two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year, mirrored the achievement of 2010 Derby Trial champion King Dancer, who also won the Classic Series second leg after missing the first.

But 65 gallopers have failed to emulate Ambitious Dragon across the past 11 Classic Cups, with only five of them – Dominant (third in 2012), Redkirk Warrior (second in 2015), Eastern Express (tied for third in 2016), The Golden Age (third in 2018) and Money Catcher (third in 2022) – placing.

Since the Jockey Club reinstated the Derby Trial/Classic Cup in 2006 to complement the Classic Mile following the latter’s creation in 2001, the former has been a graveyard for favourites.

Just four Derby Trial/Classic Cup market leaders have justified favouritism in its past 17 editions – Floral Pegasus ($2.35 in 2007), Rapper Dragon ($1.70 in 2017), Golden Sixty ($2.20 in 2020) and California Spangle ($1.90 in 2022) – and there have been several successful roughies, including It Has To Be You ($126 in 2013), Mission Tycoon ($92.85 in 2019) and Healthy Happy ($22.65 in 2021).

Voyage Bubble led all the way under Jamie Kah to win last month’s Classic Mile, and the Classic Cup has a history of favouring on-speed gallopers in the mould of Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s yearling purchase.

The early leaders have won three of the past four Classic Cups, with World Famous fading from first to seventh in the 2020 renewal that Golden Sixty won from eighth spot with 400m remaining.

Following the barrier draw for this year’s Classic Cup, there is a high probability it will be run at a similar tempo to that of the Classic Mile, which Voyage Bubble won without running any of its four 400m sections quicker than standard time.

Keefy (gate two), Voyage Bubble (gate six) and Sweet Encounter (gate seven) are the Classic Cup’s most likely front runners, although there is a speed map wild card, Beautyverse, who must overcome gate 14 in tandem with his superstar jockey, James McDonald.

The last time Beautyverse jumped from an outside barrier – gate 14 – he made every yard over 1,600m on what was his first Hong Kong appearance. McDonald, under whom Beautyverse settled eighth and finished eighth in the Classic Mile after exiting the inside stall, has a tactical decision to make.

Zac Purton, however, does not have to think long and hard about he will ride Classic Mile second Tuchel from the inside barrier, while Bon’s A Pearla has finally drawn a good gate after beginning from stalls 11 (once) and 12 (twice) on her three city outings since joining David Hayes from Australia.

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