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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Hold off on that victory lap, Beautyverse fans

When Tony Cruz-trained Beautyverse won his Hong Kong debut on Sunday in Class 2, there were already commentators and fans ready to make him the one to beat in the 2023 HK Derby.

The former South Australian Derby winner, under the name Jungle Magnate, was ridden upside down based on his previous pattern, did some work through the run but still staved off a talented runner-up over 1600m on Sunday and it was a run full of merit.

And it was certainly something that doesn't happen every day.

Wins in Class 3 on debut in Hong Kong are not that frequent, wins in Class 2 rarer again and, in theory at least, highly significant looking towards the 4yo classic series.

In most recent years, races like the Classic Mile, Classic Cup and even the Hong Kong Derby are really just glorified Class 2 races restricted to the 4yo age group.

There are usually not many runners with handicap rating of more than 100, if any, but most are rated 80 or higher - the normal handicap rating band for a Class 2 race is 100-80.

There have been exceptions back through the years.

Lucky Owners contested the 2004 classic events after having already won the international G1 Hong Kong Mile, so his handicap rating of 129 was already miles above his peers, though the handicapping practices were different then anyway.

These days, yes, they race for bigger cheques than a Class 2 but that simply masks the real quality level at which these races are run and performances from the 4yo series races are often overrated by the public and commentators as a result of those name tags and prizemoney levels.

So a win in Class 2 on debut is a clear indication that the horse concerned has already established him (or her) self at the required standard, while the largest group of Derby aspirants will battle it out in Class 3 hoping to get to that level.

That said, it hasn't exactly been a smooth 2+2 equals 4 process in the past.

Here's the list of horses which won in Class 2, or better, at their Hong Kong debut since 2005 and Beautyverse's trainer, Tony Cruz, has been as good as anyone at getting this done.

The last two horses to win on debut in Class 2, Naboo Attack and Enrich Delight, met tragic ends within half a year of their first-up achievement.

Naboo Attack returned the next season to win the Chief Execuive's Cup first-up but died just a couple of starts later after the 2021 Hong Kong Sprint fall.

Enrich Delight raced only a couple of times more before a catastrophic breakdown during the Classic Mile.

But regular Hong Kong racing watchers might recall the tumble from grace of Beauty Legacy after his huge debut win in Class 2 - in 23 subsequent starts, he never won again, placed only twice and retired earlier this year with a rating in the middle of Class 3.

Going back further, the former Caulfield Guineas winner, Divine Calling, was tipped for stardom after his soft debut Class 2 win and started odds on in the 2015 Classic Mile, but he too failed to win another race.

There have been big success stories too - John Moore trainer Werther, Eagle Way and Military Attack to Class 2 wins at their Hong Kong debut and two of them went on to Horse Of The Year honours, while Eagle Way became a stalwart of the top level middle distance events for several seasons.

Likewise, although Ka Ying Star has been an infrequent winner, he too has been a very solid competitor against the best since he won at his Class 2 debut, he's still fronting up for Group races as a rising 8yo now and has banked over $30 million in stakes.

So on this table, I've added some notes on how things played out for others who did what Beautyverse did on the weekend.

In many cases, it definitely was not always a harbinger of great things to come, or even average things to come.

It isn't even totally clear whether the outcome was success or failure. Helene Mascot, for example, won the Classic Mile at his first Hong Kong start, then won the Hong Kong Derby two runs later before developing breathing issues later.

He retired 18 months, but just four starts, after his Derby win without having been competitive again. However, he was bought to win a Derby and won it, so he could hardly be said to be a flop, even if his long term career didn't happen.

Like most things, it's a mixed bag, but the history of Class 2 debut winners is fair warning to Beautyverse's many fans after Sunday to maybe keep a lid on the lap of honour until the Derby is over.

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