The victory was a first in the race for jockey Vincent Ho, who ended a run of outs for 'homegrown' riders in the 'blue riband' going back to 1995; it was also a first Derby for trainer Francis Lui and owner Stanley Chan, and the first time in the professional era – since 1971 – that a native Hong Kong trainer, jockey and owner combined for victory.
"I think I can sleep well tonight, all the pressure on my shoulders has just gone," Ho said after he had driven the 1.7 favourite to a flashing neck win over the 289/1 shot Playa Del Puente.
The jockey deserves his night of peace, as does Golden Sixty. The brown gelding quickened from 11th at the top of the straight through a run that was, in equal measure, brilliant dash and depth-mining resolution.
His closing 400m split was completed in a lung-taxing 21.83s, the fastest at the course and distance since Designs On Rome clocked 21.82s in the 2014 Jockey Club Cup. Golden Sixty's final sprint ensured a race record time of 2m 00.15s – but anything less would have brought nothing but a gallant defeat.
Lui admitted to being "excited and panicked" when Ho angled Golden Sixty from behind horses into a wide alley, at least six lengths behind Playa Del Puente. The runner-up had made an audacious burst clear of the pack under Blake Shinn.
"Round the bend, they slowed down the pace and that's why the other horse was able to run away but Golden Sixty showed excellent acceleration. I was worried but I could see Golden Sixty was trying very hard," Lui explained.
Much had been said and written pre-race about Ho's rapid ascent in the past two seasons and when the chips were down, the burgeoning rider did not disappoint.
Ho could do nothing but sit and wait when Shinn opted to roll Playa Del Puente from last to first, between the 900m mark and the 700m point. That move saw Golden Sixty shuffled back to the rear behind a tempo that had steadied for a sprint home.
Shinn's exquisite move gave him the edge, but Ho kept his cool.
"I wasn't too worried," Ho said. "I know my horse can produce a really good turn-of-foot and he relaxed really well for me through the race. When I saw the winning post, I knew I should be able to get him, as long as the other horse didn't accelerate again.
"I didn't mind the tempo – fast or slow – as long as my horse was relaxed and I knew I had to wait until the last bit to ask my horse to pick up. He's got the best turn-of-foot in the field and I just had to be patient."
Golden Sixty became only the second horse, after Rapper Dragon in 2017, to win all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series. This afternoon's win followed his successes in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
"It's an amazing feeling to win all the four-year-old classics and he's a superstar for sure; I think today, especially, it was very difficult to come from behind and sprint like that," Ho, 29, said.
The win meant that he took his place as one of only four Hong Kong-born jockeys to have won the Hong Kong Derby in the past 50 years, and the first since Tony Cruz scored on Makarpura Star in 1995.
"It's such an amazing feeling, my first Derby on a horse that I love so much and he's such a good horse," he said.
Lui, 61, was delighted to have finally won the Derby after 25 years as a trainer.
"It's not easy," he said. "I'm very happy – I have to say thank you to my stable team."
Lui will now look to FWD Champions Day on 26 April with options in the G1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) and G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).
Shinn's move foiled
Had Blake Shinn's field-rounding move worked out, he would have masterminded the biggest Hong Kong Derby upset since Holy Grail's 183/1 shock in 1999 – if not the biggest ever.
Playa Del Puente had plenty in the tank when he led the 14 runners off the final turn and with 150m to go it still looked as though he had the march on Golden Sixty.
But the Danny Shum-trained Irish-bred began to falter as the winner surged home and Shinn could do no more.
"He ran his heart out," the Australian said. "We left nothing to chance and put everything on the table when they slowed mid-race, we put it to the rest of the field.
"I knew my horse had a lot of stamina and I had confidence taking off that he would keep going – he did that, he was there for me, he just got beat by a superstar horse on the rise."
Playa Del Puente and third-placed More Than This, also trained by Lui, both sported the silks of owner Huang Kai Wen. The latter horse boxed on for minor honours, three lengths behind his victorious stablemate.
"I thought his run was fair – he drew the right gate and had a lovely run," jockey Zac Purton said. "It didn't help when Joao (Moreira on Champion's Way) backed the speed off and then the mid-race move happened and really shook the race's complexion up, but I was able to get through and I thought in the straight he should have been a bit braver than he was."
Purton keeps the pressure on
Earlier in the day, Purton drew level briefly with Moreira at the top of the jockeys' premiership when the Benno Yung-trained Tung Wah Glory took the Class 4 Ping Hai Star Handicap (1400m), with Moreira an unfortunate loser on the slow-starting but fast-closing third Heza Beauty.
That completed a back-to-back double for Purton, who took the preceding race on the Ricky Yiu-trained Good Luck Friend.
Grant van Niekerk had already thwarted Moreira in the afternoon's first two races: the Peter Ho-trained Breeze Of Spring arrived late to mug Moreira's mount Evan Almighty in the opener; the South African pulled off the same trick in the next, driving the Richard Gibson-trained Full Power to pip Moreira on Family Leader.
Moreira hit the mark, and regained a one-win advantage over Purton in the championship race, when another three-year-old, Ping Hai Bravo, landed race five, the Class 3 Designs On Rome Handicap (1200m).
Purton nailed a treble when he steered the Gibson-trained rising star Wellington to an impressive third win on the bounce in the Class 3 Luger Handicap (1200m), but Moreira struck back to edge a one win advantage at the end of play, with a success on another promising type, the Tony Millard-trained Seattle Choice, in the Class 2 Rapper Dragon Handicap (1400m).
Neil Callan and Tony Cruz combined to win the Class 3 Collection Handicap (1400m) with All In Mind. Matthew Chadwick drove the David Hall-trained London Hall to win the Class 3 Akeed Mofeed Handicap (2000m).
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 25 March.