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Highden Park hail Hong Kong Derby success – NZ Racing Desk

Highden Park principals Libby and Sam Bleakley were still left pinching themselves on Monday morning as they were coming to grips with yet another farm graduate winning the Hong Kong Derby (2000m).

As they looked across their 60-acre Manawatu property they could see former Hong Kong Derby winners Werther and Ping Hai Star enjoying their retirement in the lush, green paddocks of their farm. Just a matter of hours prior they had witnessed Sky Darci secure his name in the record books when winning Hong Kong’s most coveted race.

The Higden Park graduate staved off the final attack of Russian Emperor to win the rich Classic by a head on Sunday, pleasantly surprising the Bleakleys, who sold him through their 2018 New Zealand Bloodstock Book 1 Yearling Sale draft for $160,000.

“It’s so surreal,” Libby Bleakley said.

“As nice a horse as he is, we didn’t think it was a possibility that we could win another Derby.”

The farm has now been associated with three of the last six victors of the Hong Kong Derby, as well as Derby placegetter and dual Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation.

“Werther was raised at Andrew Campbell’s (co-breeder and former trainer), but his mother (Bagalollies) is our resident Matriarch at Highden Park and he has retired here,” Bleakley said.

“Beauty Generation ran third, and this time three years ago we were up in Hong Kong for Ping Hai Star’s win. And now Sky Darci has won the Derby.”

Sky Darci pleased Bleakley throughout his time at the farm in the lead-up to the sales, but she said he didn’t stand out from the crowd as a younger horse, particularly given the quality of their draft that year.

“He came to us from The Oaks Stud when he was weaned off the mare,” Bleakley said. “He was a beautiful, strong colour and had nice strength. We thought he would be spot on for Book 1. He is exactly what we look for in our draft.

“He was a straight-forward, simple horse that never drew attention to himself. He grew out beautifully, prepped beautifully and was so completely under the radar.

“He was a gorgeous horse, but he was in a gorgeous draft as well.

“In 2018 we took 10 yearlings to the sales, seven of them are now winners, including Group One winner Toffee Tongue, Hong Kong Derby winner Sky Darci, Group Three winner Kinane, and Vegas Knight, who was second in the Stutt Stakes (Gr.2, 1600m).”

Preparing less than a dozen yearlings each year for the sales, Bleakley is duly proud of the amount of success Highden Park graduates have had on the track, particularly in Hong Kong.

“We are on 60 acres and we have 15 mares, and we have about 12 foals every year,” she said.

“We have only got 10 boxes, so we only prepare a maximum of 10 yearlings for the sales.

“The Hong Kong Derby is our number one. It is so prestigious and we know how much it means to owners, trainers, and jockeys up in Hong Kong.

“To be able to cover all bases and have Group One winners in Australia as well is surreal. It’s nice because people come and outlay good money for yearlings and they are getting the results. That’s what it’s all about.”

Bleakley said the win was a great tonic for breeders David Price and Mark Freeman, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday with the win.

“They are good friends from Wellington and they have been clients of ours since the beginning,” Bleakley said.

“Originally, Strictly Maternal (dam) was based up at The Oaks Stud. She was then transferred down here. We have a yearling full-brother to Sky Darci on the farm and she is in-foal to Shocking.”

While the Bleakelys were willing Sky Darci home from their Manawatu home, Freeman and Price were just as animated in front of their television screens in Wellington.

Freeman said it was a great way to end his birthday.

“That was a massive thrill for a couple of small breeders who are lucky enough to have bred a horse that good. It wasn’t a bad birthday present,” Freeman quipped.

The former lawyer has been racing and breeding horses in partnership with Price for the best part of three decades, and it all started with Sky Darci’s grand-dam, Take Silk.

“I bumped into David at the races and knew him as an acquaintance at the time,” Freeman said.

“Paddy Busuttin rang me to see if I wanted to buy a Star Way filly that he had on the market. I gave David a call to see if he wanted to go into a horse with me. We named her Take Silk and that is the grand-dam of Sky Darci.

“We have been breeding from that family for quite a while and we have been lucky enough to have bred a Brisbane Cup (Gr.2, 2200m) winner in Chocante, and now we have got a Hong Kong Derby winner, so it has been pretty unbelievable.”

Freeman and Price have a long-time association with Highden Park and were one of their original clients after Freeman was impressed with Libby Bleakley when he saw her on Trackside.

“I was part of syndicate that raced a mare called Special Draw a couple of years back. She finished racing and was a nice mare, so we wanted to breed from her,” Freeman said.

“I was trying to work out where we would go with her and what we would do. Coincidentally I was watching a replay of a breeding programme that used to be on Trackside. There was an interview with Libby and she was just setting up Highden Park at the time.

“I really liked her enthusiasm for the industry and making something work in the Central Districts. As soon as the programme finished I googled Highden Park and rang her and said I had a horse I wanted her to look after.”

Freeman and Price now breed from a couple of Highden Park domiciled mares and they are looking forward to trying to breed another elite-level racetrack performer.

Sunday’s Derby victory was another advocate for the skills of Matamata trainer Graham Richardson, who pre-trained Sky Darci and trialled him on a couple of occasions for the Kwan family.

Richardson has a good association with bloodstock agent Willie Leung and also trialled Hong Kong stars Golden Sixty and Mr Stunning in New Zealand before their relocation to Sha Tin.

New Zealand’s great record in the Hong Kong Derby was also extended with the win, with New Zealand bred or sourced thoroughbreds now having won five of the last six editions of the coveted Classic.

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