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California makes historic Memory with HK Cup repeat

California Memory was long gone by the time that Giofra arrived on the premises (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Howard Liang Yum Sing's California Memory indelibly etched his name in the record book with an unprecedented repeat victory in Sunday's Group 1 Hong Kong Cup. Unlike last year's triumph, when the diminutive gray had to wait for room, there was no such suspense in his title defense. California Memory had a wide gap to shoot through, and the Tony Cruz-trained favorite summarily dispatched an international field in a few strides.

"I'm over the moon right now -- it's incredible," said winning rider Matthew Chadwick, a Hong Kong native. "He's a great little horse. It's all about him. I'm just lucky to be part of it all."

California Memory broke from the rail, as in the 2011 Cup, and took up a lovely stalking position in fourth early. As expected, Dan Excel hustled to the front, while an overeager Zaidan failed to settle in second, and Autumn Gold raced in third. Feuerblitz improved his position down the backstretch and actually put his head in front of Dan Excel at the six-furlong mark, but the German colt couldn't maintain his move.

At the same time, California Memory was briefly shuffled back along the inside and found himself worse than midfield. The Queen's Carlton House, who had been drafting behind California Memory, likewise lost position. The French filly Giofra was near the rear, and Australia's Alcopop was dead last in the 11-horse field.

But Chadwick was able to get California Memory back into fourth on the final turn, just 2 1/2 lengths behind Dan Excel. The upset-minded pacesetter was getting bold at the top of the stretch as he set sail for home, shrugging off Feuerblitz and Zaidan and trying to establish daylight on the field.

California Memory has overcome physical issues to reign as the first two-time Cup winner (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Then California Memory angled out, and the race was over. Delivering a blistering turn of foot, the Highest Honor gelding surged well clear. Giofra belatedly followed the same path as the winner and reduced his margin to one length at the wire, but she could not thwart history. California Memory negotiated 1 1/4 miles on the good Sha Tin turf in 2:03 to become the first horse ever to win two Hong Kong Cups.

"He showed great acceleration, and showed his authority today," Cruz said. "When he quickened Matthew said he put everyone to bed.

"And then he started to idle in front, and the horse started thinking 'where is everybody?' -- but when they started to come back to him he thought, 'I'd better go a bit faster again.'"

Giofra's rider, Christophe Soumillon, was wondering what might have been.

"Had we got a better draw, we would have won the race," Soumillon said. "The winner took off when we were still struggling to get out of there, and by the time I could go, we were six lengths back. However she showed that she was up to the task and hopefully could emulate Pride -- that is come back here and win the Cup!"

As Soumillon noted, Pride, the runner-up in the 2005 Cup, duly came back and won in 2006.

Giofra had 1 3/4 lengths to spare over Alcopop, who stayed on strongly from the rear to grab third.

"He jumped in the air at the start and copped an early check," jockey Craig Williams said of Alcopop. "It turned into a sit and sprint, and he was excellent in the closing stages. There was some quality horses, and you've got to be proud of him."

Jockey Matthew Chadwick congratulates his mount (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
A stubborn Dan Excel held fourth, followed by Military Attack, Carlton House, Zaidan, Irian, Autumn Gold, Saonois and Feuerblitz.

"(Dan Excel) ran a massive race," jockey Neil Callan said. "I was happy to set the pace, and he got quite relaxed in front with easy fractions. He fought all the way through and I thought that we could keep the third place, but Alcopop kicked on and got us."

Ryan Moore commented on the slightly disappointing effort from Carlton House.

"He wasn't good enough today really, but the ground was plenty quick enough for him," Moore said of the Queen's colt, who will be transferred to Gai Waterhouse in Australia.

Saonois ran well below his best.

"It is disappointing as he prepared very well," jockey Antoine Hamelin said, "and we were quite hopeful before the race. He jumped all right, but we had to fight a bit in the backstretch, which switched him on a bit early. We could have lost a bit of power there, but he should not have finished so poorly anyway. I guess he will get a bit of rest now."

The Cup had two early scratches -- the outstanding French gelding Cirrus des Aigles, who was ruled out Friday with a tendon injury, and locally-based Sweet Orange, who was lame in his right front.

California Memory has had his share of soundness issues as well, making his career record of 30-11-4-5, and more than HK$40 million in earnings, particularly admirable.

"We have to give credit to the vet Ben Mason," Cruz said, "because the horse has had his niggles and been lame many times, but he fixed the problem."

Chadwick is hailed as a hometown hero (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Bred by Fred Seitz in Kentucky, California Memory was sold for $65,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Under the name of Portus Blendium, he began his career in France and placed in the 2009 Prix de Tourgeville and Prix Matchem for Carlos Laffon-Parias.

Since joining Cruz in Hong Kong in 2010, the renamed California Memory has become one of the top horses in the territory. In early 2011, he captured the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup and placed second to Ambitious Dragon in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Last fall, he landed the Group 2 Sha Tin Trophy before ending the year on a high note in the Hong Kong Cup.

California Memory kicked off 2012 with a pair of thirds to Ambitious Dragon in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup and Hong Kong Gold Cup. Shipped to Dubai for the Group 1 Duty Free on World Cup night, he was a subpar 12th, and still wasn't right when fifth in the QEII Cup and seventh in the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup in May.

During the new Hong Kong season, California Memory returned with a much sharper fifth in the October 28 Sha Tin Trophy. Next he got up in time in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup, the course-and-distance prep on November 18. That was his first score since last year's Hong Kong Cup, and now sound and healthy once more, he's won two in a row.

California Memory is out of the winning Kalpita, a daughter of Spinning World. His second dam, Kamaina, is a winning full sister to Italian champion filly Proskona. With his fourth dam being the influential Royal Statute, California Memory comes from the family of unbeaten star Lammtarra and Pour Moi, both winners of the Group 1 Derby at Epsom, and highweights Hector Protector and Bosra Sham.

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