Neither his ripe old age of eight, nor past health problems, have proven much of a drag on Aerovelocity (NZ). The 2014 Hong Kong Sprint (G1) hero regained his title in characteristically brave fashion at Sha Tin on Sunday, carving out his own niche in the history of this Hong Kong International Race. Only the second horse to win the Sprint two years apart, after the great Sacred Kingdom (Aus) (2007 and 2009), Aerovelocity became the oldest horse ever to prevail in the about six-furlong dash.
The New Zealand-bred son of Pins had already boasted a unique distinction. Aerovelocity is the only Hong Kong-based horse to score a Group 1 triple in different countries, his other signature wins coming in the 2015 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) in Japan and the KrisFlyer International Sprint (G1) in Singapore.
Aerovelocity didn’t get an opportunity to defend his Sprint crown here last year. Diagnosed with a heart irregularity, he had to watch from the sidelines as the younger Peniaphobia played the role of usurper.
Trainer Paul O’Sullivan got Aerovelocity right in time for the January 31 Centenary Sprint Cup, where he scored a brilliant comeback win. Next came a return trip to Japan for the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, but the veteran suffered a bout of colic that ruled him out of a repeat bid.
O’Sullivan again brought Aerovelocity back to fitness and solid form of late. Yet, despite his fine thirds to Lucky Bubbles (Aus) in the Premier Bowl (G2) and Not Listenin’tome (Aus) in the Jockey Club Sprint (G2), it was only logical to wonder if the eight-year-old could turn back the clock and win another Sprint. His trainer was forthright about his own questions in that regard.
Aerovelocity, however, took no notice of the calendar or of his birth certificate. Given a lovely ride by regular pilot Zac Purton, the 6-1 chance drafted just off the pace set by defending champion Peniaphobia and overhauled him down the lane.
Then 6-5 favorite Lucky Bubbles uncorked a withering late run from near the rear: would the fresh-faced five-year-old storm past the grizzled veteran? Aerovelocity wasn’t ready for a generational changing of the guard. Digging in with all his might, he held on by a desperate short head, and extended his career record to 24-12-4-3.
“Out of all his wins, I think this is the most satisfying one because we’ve had some troubles with him,” Purton said. “He has had some problems, he’s older now and Paul had to pull everything out of his trick bag to get him in the condition he is today.
“It’s a good feeling because we were of the opinion that we were starting to lose him. And we know he’s a warrior and he gives everything he’s got and although he didn’t perform at his best today, his heart is so big that he was able to give us that effort.
“With 100 meters to go I was very confident of winning but with 50 (meters) to go, I could feel Lucky Bubbles starting to breathe down on me and I was looking at that post and I was praying for it to come quicker and quicker!
“We had a lovely run in the race, though, and he came out and he was just able to amble up. It was hard fought in the end, but he is all heart.”
O’Sullivan hailed Aerovelocity as “the bravest horse I’ve ever put a saddle on” and “a marvel, an absolute marvel.”
“I certainly expected him to be competitive, it was just a matter of whether time had caught up with him. He’d had probably the best preparation that he’d had going into an international, but he had indicated that he was getting a little bit older – he was taking a little bit longer to come to hand. I thought he’d get some prize money for sure, but to win it is just fantastic.
“He’s had plenty of issues. He had a heart irregularity, he had a significant amount of blood in his trachea on that day, he travelled to Japan last season and got colic. But I said to (owner) Daniel (Yeung) before the race today, I can’t get him any better than this. I think he’s peaked on the day, it’s just a matter of whether he’s still got it in him.”
Lucky Bubbles’ jockey, Brett Prebble, was ruing his bad luck.
“It was a pretty rough race and I got shuffled back a little bit more than I would have liked,” Prebble said. “There are a few jocks playing jockeys out there. If I got out earlier he wins, full stop. He is the best horse in the race. There is no better horse in Hong Kong than Lucky Bubbles at the moment.”
Traffic wasn’t his only issue. The pace wasn’t as hot as projected in the Sprint, partly a function of Signs of Blessing (Ire) opting to take back from his far outside post, and Japan’s Big Arthur (Jpn) likewise preferring to stalk out wide rather than force the issue. But also, as the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Pat Cummings tweeted, the scratch of American Pure Sensation was a key factor in the lack of early zip.
Hence the late runners were up against it, and Aerovelocity’s final time of 1:08.80 was slightly above Sha Tin’s standard (1:08.40).
Peniaphobia held third in his third consecutive Sprint appearance, having just missed to Aerovelocity as a sophomore in 2014 before winning in his absence. Fellow Hong Kong denizen Amazing Kids closed from far back for fourth, completing a clean sweep of the superfecta for the locals.
French raider Signs of Blessing barreled home from last for fifth, and trainer Francois Rohaut looked at the bright side.
“We had to ride him against the way he usually likes to be because of the draw,” Rohaut said. “We know we have a super horse who is well up to this level and he will win this next year, as simple as that. We won’t let the owner draw his stall number though!”
The post may also have been a complication for Big Arthur, who could do no better than 10th of 13 after losing ground.
With O’Sullivan mentioning another Takamatsunomiya Kinen venture in the cards, Aerovelocity will likely clash with defending champion Big Arthur on the latter’s home turf in March.