THE Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby on March 14 is the most prestigious race on the domestic calendar and some of the best four-year-olds are heading for this en route the first leg of the four-year-old series, the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile on Sunday.

Trainer Tony Cruz, looking for his record-breaking seventh Hong Kong Derby success, holds the aces in the first leg of the four-year-old series with three runners in the $HK8 million Hong Kong Group 1 event on Sunday.

Cruz won the Derby four times as a jockey and twice as a trainer, with Lucky Owner in 2004 and Helene Mascot in 2008. And while his top-rated Beauty Flash has never travelled beyond 1400m, several statistics are on Cruz's side.

With a rating of 116, Beauty Flash is pounds better than his 13 rivals. In addition, six of the last 10 winners of the Classic Trial have been PPs and two of the last five have carried saddle cloth No.1.

The only dark cloud is the outside draw of Gate 14 though Cruz believes big race jockey Christophe Soumillon, specially invited by owner Mr Kwok Siu-ming, has the experience to overcome that. Soumillon won the event last year on the Danny Shum-trained Thumbs Up and should he succeed he will become the first jockey to win the Classic Mile back to back.

``He is still at the learning stage but he is an easy horse to control. And more importantly, he doesn't fight with the jockey,'' Cruz said of Beauty Flash. ``This is his biggest challenge but he has the class to run well and his pedigree suggests he will have no trouble getting the longer trip.''

Cruz also saddles up Super Pistachio and Straight Forward, both with decent records overseas but with little Hong Kong experience.

``The two horses are still a little bit green but have the potential to do well in this grade,'' Cruz said.

Felix Coetzee, who shared many of Cruz's successes in the past, has been recalled to ride Super Pistachio, winner of the Champagne Stakes in Doncaster, while the trainer has honoured his previous apprentice Matthew Chadwick with the ride on Straight Forward.

Ironically, the challenge to Beauty Flash could come from another horse owned by Mr Kwok, Beauty Legend, who is trained by two-time champion Caspar Fownes. The New Zealand import ran third over 1400m at his Hong Kong debut before winning over 1600m on New Year's Day.

The horse has won over 2000m overseas and ran fifth in the Group 1 Queensland Derby at Eagle Farm over 2400m.  Fownes said Beauty Legend is coming into form at the right time and has the ammunition to take on the big guns.


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