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Amber Sky blasts to course record in Al Quoz Sprint

Amber Sky (far left) led all the way and gamely resisted Ahtoug (center) and defending champion Shea Shea (right) (Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club)
Hung Kam Po's Amber Sky, a specialist down the five-furlong straight at Sha Tin, successfully transferred his trail-blazing game to Meydan in Saturday's Group 1, $1 million Al Quoz Sprint. Dashing to the lead and never looking back, the Ricky Yiu trainee held off Ahtoug and defending champion Shea Shea, and in the process, eclipsed the latter's course record.

Amber Sky was the first half of a brilliant sprint double for Hong Kong, and for jockey Joao Moreira. One race later, the ace rider galvanized the John Moore-trained Sterling City to defeat fellow Hong Kong shipper Rich Tapestry in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on Tapeta.

Coming off his first stakes score in the Centenary Sprint Cup on January 26, Amber Sky now looms as the heir apparent to Yiu's last sprint supremo, Sacred Kingdom. The Australian-bred son of Exceed and Excel sped from post 8, and Moreira cleverly steered the 3-1 second choice toward the favored stands' side of the course.

The 4-5 Shea Shea, in contrast, lagged farther behind than might have been expected early. Regular rider Christophe Soumillon found himself threading his way through the field, instead of getting a run along the stands' side rail that he typically prefers.

Amber Sky kept bowling along up front, throwing down the gauntlet to those chasing. Ahtoug, who just missed to Shea Shea in the March 8 Meydan Sprint, emerged as his nearest pursuer, but couldn't quite get past. Shea Shea also found his best stride, only too late.

Preserving a neck advantage from Ahtoug at the line, Amber Sky sizzled about five furlongs on the good turf in :56.21. Shea Shea thus saw his old mark of :56.41 lowered while reporting home another head away in third.

"He's such a fast horse and very easy to ride," Moreira said. "He proved himself worldwide. He's a very special horse.

"I was able to not let him go too fast in the early stages, to hold onto him a bit, but when I pushed the button he gave me another kick and kept going to the line.

"Near the line, there were a few horses attacking me but he was just too good for them.

"Near the line, I could feel the other two horses coming at me, I didn't know who they were, but he kept sticking his neck out and we got there. This is such a thrill for me to win a Group 1 on the biggest stage of all." 

"I'm just very relieved he won," Yiu said. "It was tough. They were all coming at him in the last 100 meters and I was worried that he might get tired but he fought really well.

"I can't compare him yet to those horses (his past legends Sacred Kingdom and Fairy King Prawn) as he only done it down a straight course at 1000 meters. He would have to do it around a bend at 1200 meters also, but maybe he can get to that level in the future.

"It was always the plan to come here and win an international race. The King's Stand at Royal Ascot is a possible target but I will talk to the owners first. It's a stiff five furlongs uphill at Ascot, so it would be a new challenge but he's an improving horse."

Charlie Appleby, the trainer of Ahtoug, was thrilled with his rapid ascent, and also looking ahead to the Royal meeting.

"He has thrived out here and has been so consistent all Carnival," Appleby said. "He has improved with each run and we'll aim towards the King's Stand at Royal Ascot. He deserves a chance there after that."

Jockey Christophe Soumillon recapped what happened with Shea Shea.

"He jumped slow from the gate this time," Soumillon said. "The pace was very strong and could get no other position than last. By the time I got him running, the winner had gone. The winner must be a very good horse to break the track record."

Riding sensation Joao Moreira guided both of Hong Kong's sprint winners on World Cup night (Randi Sokoloff/Dubai Racing Club)
The top three had about 1 1/4 lengths to spare over Medicean Man, who was trailed by Catcall, Hamza, Sole Power, Dux Scholar, Joy and Fun, Sholaan, Berlino di Tiger and Beat Baby.

Joy and Fun, the 2010 Al Quoz hero who was third in 2012 and second last year, was running his final race. An 11-year-old by Northern Hemisphere standards, the Derek Cruz trainee is now set for retirement.

"The number draw (post 1) was against him as they all went across (to the stands' side)," jockey Brett Doyle said, "but he's been a great horse, and he's run a good race all things considered."

Ryan Moore, rider of Sole Power, likewise rued his post 2.

"We were drawn in the wrong place," Moore summed up.

Jockey Leandro Goncalves said that Berlino di Tiger was compromised right from the start.

"He's a very fast horse," Goncalves said. "His game is to break and go. He stumbled coming out of the gate. For a horse like him, the first two jumps (are very important). He missed it (the break), he stumbled. I was behind Joao Moreira, the winner and I couldn't figure out whether or not to go inside or outside and it cost me a little bit, then the last sixteenth of a mile, he got a little bit tired."

Amber Sky has compiled a record of 14-7-2-1. Sixth in last year's Centenary Sprint Cup, he later placed second in the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy, and is just now coming to the peak of his powers. He kicked off the current Hong Kong season with a bloodless, 5 1/2-length romp in an October 30 handicap. Although failing to handle a step up to about six furlongs in the November 17 Jockey Club Sprint, where he tired inside the final furlong, he bounced back emphatically back down at this trip in the Centenary Sprint.

Bred by O.E. and D.R. Pope Pty Ltd., Amber Sky is out of Australian Group 2 heroine Truly Wicked, a daughter of Rubiton. His second dam, Dizzy Lass, is a full sister to Australian Group 3 victress Ticket to Rome from the family of Group 2 scorer Great Glen.

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