Experience tells us that it seldom pays to get carried away by one performance – especially when that performance comes on a track which has soaked up several hours of drizzle – but Dark Dream (122lb) looked every inch a leading Classic hope by taking some very smart rivals apart in the Class 2 Long Ke Handicap at Sha Tin.
Frankie Lor's Queensland Derby winner had an impressive record when he arrived in Hong Kong in September but, despite a promising Hong Kong debut under Zac Purton two weeks earlier, he was easy in the market at 4.2 as sustained support came for Danny Shum's Harmony Victory.
That gelding was a dual G1 winner in his native Brazil and he looked far from the only danger beforehand in a field which also included two more recent good winners in Super Chic and Insayshable.
However, in a race where a steady early pace increased appreciably before halfway Dark Dream looked a class apart, powering through on the inside to lead forging further and further clear to beat Giant Turtle (107lb) by four and a half lengths.
Insayshable (132lb) ran respectably in third but Harmony Victory (122lb) failed to live up to market expectations in finishing a one-paced fifth.
De Sousa, who admitted that he “went too fast” when partnering Dark Dream in Thursday trackwork, was surprised but delighted with how swiftly Dark Dream put the race to bed.
The clock backed up the visual impression – with a final split of 23.18s that was striking in relation to other finishing efforts on the round course – and de Sousa added that “you don't feel it when he quickens but he hit the front and just kept going.”
Lor has a potentially powerful Derby pack to shuffle once the Four-Year-Old Classic Series gets under way with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on 27 January and, ever the realist, he voiced concerns about whether the rain had played a part in the margin of victory.
“Maybe that helped him,” he said. “At the turn he was last or second last, so I was nervous, but he came so strongly up the inside. Coming back for the Classic Mile may be a bit short but I have to try and, of course, I hope he's a Derby horse.”
There are still dozens of Derby cards to be played before the big race on 17 March – and Purton may well regain the ride on Dark Dream once he returns from suspension – but this was an explosive opening bid by any measure.
De Sousa's current Hong Kong contract expires on 28 February but the Brazilian didn't miss a beat when asked if he would make a return trip for the Derby.
“No, I wouldn't mind that.” He added. “Definitely not!”
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