Hong Kong-based runners rebuffed the shippers in all four of Sunday’s International Races, scoring an historic first local sweep of the Sha Tin extravaganza.
The most imperious performance was turned in by the day’s heaviest favorite, defending Hong Kong Mile (G1) champion Beauty Generation, whose repeat victory illustrated why he’s the highest rated miler in the world.
Trained by John Moore and perfectly ridden by Zac Purton, Hong Kong’s reigning Horse of the Year was unfazed by post 12. Beauty Generation used his tactical speed to take command, traveled with noticeable ease, and coasted home a three-length winner over Japanese champion mare Vivlos. One Master, exiting a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), was eighth.
“That’s what we all hoped we’d see today,” Purton said. “I’m just happy for the horse that he’s come out and produced it on a big stage. He has shown everyone how brutally good he can be.
“His best attribute is he has got a very high cruising speed, he’s very comfortable rolling along at that speed and he can kick off it. For the horses back in the field they’re already struggling to go the pace and when you’ve got to try and reel him in, it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Moore, who trained seven previous HKIR winners including brilliant 2014 Mile hero Able Friend, paid tribute to Beauty Generation.
“That’s the most impressive by far,” the horseman said. “What he did today, he was taken on inside, he had to do it the hard way as far as I was concerned. Once he got to the front he has high RPMs (revolutions per minute), he got him up and away he went. As far as I could see he wasn’t even hit.”
Beauty Generation, who reeled off the metric mile in 1:33.52 on a good course, extended his winning streak to five. His resume features four Group 1s, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) and Champions Mile (G1) along with his pair of HKIR trophies. In his prior career in Australia, he finished second in the 2016 Rosehill Guineas (G1) under the name of Montaigne.
Now Moore hopes to showcase Beauty Generation abroad, beginning with the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.
“The owner (Patrick Kwok) and his father are of the opinion that they don’t come back the same horse when they travel, but I’m trying to convince them that that’s not the case with the way that I travel my horses. There’s a few little tricks there to make sure.
“If we’re going to prove him we’re going to have to do it on the world stage: We’ve done it here; home ground; that’s the advantage; he’s done it easily.
“I’d love to travel him, to take him to Dubai where everyone says right, here’s the top three in the world. I’ve won the (Dubai Golden) Shaheen (G1) and had a few placings over there.
“I know the venue very well and I believe he could travel. If everything goes to plan he could win there.”
Sunday’s other repeat winner was Mr Stunning in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1), where the 2017 exacta was amazingly replicated with D B Pin again in second. As happened last year, Mr Stunning worked out a perfect trip, but this time had three-quarters of a length to spare instead of a photo.
The major difference was that Mr Stunning had switched trainers and jockeys in the interim. Previously with John Size, he moved to Size’s protégé, Frankie Lor, who was winning his first Group 1 in only his second year as a trainer. It also marked a first Hong Kong Group 1 for jockey Karis Teetan.
“I’m very happy,” Lor said. “Karis did a great job out there. It took me a long time to get a trainer’s license so I need to try my best to keep going and train more Group 1 winners. I think John (Size) might also be happy because I worked for him and he was a great boss.”
Size trained runner-up D B Pin, third Beat the Clock, sixth Ivictory, and favored Hot King Prawn, who wilted to ninth of 11.
Teetan noted that the pace dynamics served up by a stablemate compromised Hot King Prawn.
“When Ivictory went forward to put some pressure on Hot King Prawn, I was pretty happy about that. My horse never travels too hard in a race but he was really so relaxed underneath me today.”
Winless since last December’s Sprint, but a consistent placegetter, Mr Stunning clocked about six furlongs in 1:08.85 to notch his second Group 1.
Lor didn’t have to wait long to double his Group 1 tally, with Glorious Forever dethroning older brother Time Warp in the Hong Kong Cup (G1). The siblings had traded decisions in their first two meetings. After Time Warp made hay on the front end in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (G3), Glorious Forever took it to him in the Jockey Club Cup (G2), and both paid the price in a pace meltdown that saw them finish sixth and ninth respectively.
With that backdrop, different tactics were expected. The Hong Kong Cup did unfold differently, but the plot twist was that Glorious Forever beat Time Warp to the lead. Given a masterpiece of a ride by Silvestre de Sousa, fresh off his International Jockeys Championship title at Happy Valley Wednesday, Glorious Forever slowed the pace down once taking control and held sway. Japan’s Deirdre flew late to grab second from the ever-chasing Time Warp.
“I talked to Silvestre yesterday,” Lor recalled, “and said ‘if he jumped good try to take the lead and if Time Warp pushed too hard then he could take the sit behind him’. We drew one and Time Warp seven so that made a difference.”
“Everything was in my favour,” de Sousa said, “the draw was perfect for riding a horse who could be one or two in the run. Everything went to the plan.”
Glorious Forever had been climbing the class ladder until reaching Group company this fall. He broke Time Warp’s course record over the summer, blitzing about 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.53, but got away with a time of 2:01.71 here.
While Lor celebrated two HKIR wins as a trainer, Purton scored a riding double that began with Exultant in the about 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase (G1). In the process, all-time leading HKIR trainer Tony Cruz snared the race that had eluded him, and indeed all but two locals in Vase history. Cruz thus increased his record total to 10 career wins in HKIR events.
Exultant had the ideal passage, tracking the front runner in a contest that turned messy behind him. He pounced before Japan’s Lys Gracieux got in gear, and when the deep closer drew alongside and bumped him, Exultant found more to get his nose on the line in 2:26.56.
“As he’s getting older he’s getting stronger and better,” Cruz said. “He’s got that one speed and a lot of stamina, and he likes the fast track, too, so once he got that second position we were halfway there.
“This horse has no speed so you have to have him up there and being drawn wide (10) was actually good for him because nothing was going to block him. I told Zac he had to be up there – the Japanese horse (Crocosmia) led, we sat second, it was perfect.”
Purton believed that Lys Gracieux’s contact with Exultant backfired on her.
“Joao (Moreira) had the momentum (aboard the Japanese filly). But my bloke just seemed to be loafing along a little bit and as Joao came to me he actually rolled in and bumped my horse – that seemed to fire him back up and he found his second wind then.”
Eziyra, sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), performed much better in third, but favored Waldgeist, trying to rebound from a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), was fifth again after meeting with trouble. Sixth-placer Pakistan Star was the interferer, and jockey William Buick was slapped with a suspension from December 17 through January 28, 2019 (12 racing dates in Hong Kong) and a HK$20,000 fine, for reckless riding. Red Verdon, who sustained a left front leg wound in the incident, dropped back to 13th, and Mirage Dancer was diagnosed with an irregular heart rhythm that explains his tailed-off last.
Exultant was making his third start at the distance, after a six-length romp in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup (G3) and a second to stablemate Pakistan Star in the Champions & Chater (G1). Formerly known as Irishcorrespondent, he placed third to Churchill and Thunder Snow in the 2017 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and shaped as if he wanted further with fine efforts in defeat in Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Series earlier this year.
Cruz left the door open to international forays.
“The Sheema Classic (G1) in Dubai would be a possibility,” the trainer said. “I’ll have to decide with the owner but we’ll definitely make some entries overseas and consider those.”
The local sweep was hailed by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer.
“This is a dream result and it is extremely satisfying to see the depth and quality of Hong Kong horses rising to the fore to win four Group 1 races against top-class overseas challengers. It is an amazing achievement and I will stress again that we have only 0.7 percent of the world’s horse population here in Hong Kong.”