Dark Dream heads into the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on Sunday with a ringing endorsement from the man who rode him to a troubled fourth in last month’s Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m).
“I think Dark Dream will be the winner,” Silvestre de Sousa said at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning.
And yet Britain’s three-time champion jockey hopes to prove his own thought wrong: De Sousa will not be in the Dark Dream plate this weekend. Instead, Zac Purton will climb back aboard trainer Frankie Lor’s highly-rated four-year-old.
De Sousa took over Dark Dream’s reins from Purton in December for a commanding Class 2 win over 2000m, the Australian having ridden the gelding on debut. But true to Hong Kong’s reputation for ruthless competition, the Brazilian has paid the price for failing to hit the frame behind stablemate Furore in the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
“I think I got sacked. I was very disappointed: things went against the horse and I looked after him in the race for this next race. But that’s the way it goes here - I got taken off the horse. It’s tough but that’s Hong Kong, you get on with it,” De Sousa said.
Dark Dream, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
With the man from São Francisco do Maranhão booked for the promising ratings-riser Ho Ho Khan, Purton is looking forward to getting reacquainted with the high-profile import, winner of last year’s G1 Queensland Derby (2200m).
“Dark Dream is a really nice horse and he got bad interference last time when he was coming with a run, so I think he’s the horse everybody has to beat,” Purton said.
“He just drew the wrong gate (12) last time. The race lacked speed, he drew wide, it was always going to be difficult for them to get in and get the right spot - it was just a messy race. In the straight there was that domino effect out and he got the bump but after that he still attacked the line.”
Dark Dream closed to finish two and three-quarter lengths behind the sail-away winner Furore. The Lor duo head into round two equal top-rated on 104 and as the lead protagonists on the road to the three-race series finale, the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on 17 March.
“The Classic Cup will paint a clearer picture. I was surprised at how easily Furore was able to win last time - he jumped out of the ground - so if he reproduces that performance again it means that it was no fluke and then there’s probably not much between them,” Purton said.
The rider is also confident that the step up to 1800m will suit a horse who has registered three of his five career wins at 2000m or farther.
“He’d gone from 2000 metres back to the mile last time, which is never easy to do, and now he’s stepping back up to a trip that’s more suitable. I hope he can draw well and just get the right run in the race,” he said.
“That last race had no speed on so if we get in a race with a bit more tempo it can change things for a lot of horses.”
De Sousa, too, is hoping for a good pace for the David Hall-trained Ho Ho Khan who heads into the contest off a hat-trick of course and distance wins. The new partnership had a dry run in a Happy Valley barrier trial on 9 February, galloping on well enough for fifth over an inadequate 1200m.
“He had a nice trial at the Valley the other day and I was very happy with him: it was only 1200 and he feels like a stayer. I’m pleased to pick up the ride, he’s got nice form and it’s a tight race - it is a big step up in class for him but he’s entitled to be there,” De Sousa said.
And the rider is looking for the Makfi colt to confirm his BMW Hong Kong Derby potential.
“I think he’ll stay the Derby distance, and of course that’s the dream but you have to live with the dream. We’ll find out a bit more about him in this race,” he said.
Vincent Ho has ridden Ho Ho Khan to each of his three wins but sticks with Ka Ying Star, having ridden the Tony Cruz-trained gelding to place third in the Classic Mile last time.
Ho Ho Khan completes a hat trick of wins last start, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club