So strong was the Japanese contingent in Sunday’s Hong Kong International Races that, even without Almond Eye, they scored a Group 1 triple at Sha Tin. After Glory Vase’s name proved prophetic in the Hong Kong Vase (G1), Admire Mars struck in the Mile (G1), and Win Bright edged the tough-luck Magic Wand in the Cup (G1). Only the Sprint (G1) remained in local hands, as Beat the Clock got up over stablemate Hot King Prawn in the John Size exacta.
Win Co. Ltd’s Win Bright had been subdued in his two starts since capturing the April 28 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) in his prior Hong Kong visit. But the Yoshihiro Hatakeyama trainee returned to his peak back over this course. Working out a tracking trip under regular rider Masami Matsuoka, Win Bright stayed in the clear and kept on relentlessly in the stretch.
Fellow stalker Magic Wand saved ground on the rail early, but couldn’t get out of a pocket until too late, and her thrust fell just shy at the wire. The Aidan O’Brien stalwart nevertheless clocked the fastest final quarter in :22.90, compared to Win Bright’s :22.92.
Hong Kong’s Rise High loomed until coming up another half-length short in third, followed by another local in Furore. Edisa, defending champion Glorious Forever, Dark Dream, and pacesetter Time Warp rounded out the order of finish.
Win Bright negotiated about 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.52 to complete the QEII/Hong Kong Cup double and paid $10.80. His marquee wins in Japan have come at the Grade 2 level, including the past two runnings of the Nakayama Kinen (G2).
“After his summer break he couldn’t get into top condition,” Hatakeyama said. “His last two runs were below what I expected, but he began to improve straight after the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) (when eighth to Almond Eye), and we always wanted to come here if we got the invite.
“He was in really good shape by the time he left Japan and that is why we were able to follow the same routine here as when we came in April.”
Win Bright is by Stay Gold, who also earned an HKIR title in the 2001 Vase. The five-year-old gray is a full brother to Grade 1-placed Win Fabulous, both produced by the Admire Cozzene mare Summer Eternity.
While Win Bright had little margin for error in the Cup, Silk Racing Co. Ltd.’s Glory Vase left no doubt about his superiority in a loaded Vase and returned $16.40.
Defending champion Exultant opted to make the running from his outside post 14, tracked by Derby (G1) winner Anthony Van Dyck, who emptied turning for home. Glory Vase, reserved in midpack early by Joao Moreira, threaded his way through and got the split to burst clear. Drawing off by 3 1/2 lengths, the son of Deep Impact rattled off his final quarter in :22.63 to finish about 1 1/2 miles in 2:24.77.
Lucky Lilac made it a Japanese exacta by forcing her neck in front of Exultant, and fellow Japanese hope Deirdre closed from last to grab fourth. Called to the Bar fared best of the Europeans in fifth. Next came Ho Ho Khan, True Self, Southern Legend, Young Rascal, Eagle Way, Prince of Arran, Anthony Van Dyck, Aspetar, and Mount Everest.
O’Brien believed that the season’s exertions caught up with Anthony Van Dyck, and that stablemate Mount Everest was regressing from a busy fall. Their flops put the achievement of Magic Wand in context, considering she’s been on the go for a lot longer, and traveling much farther, than the sophomore colts.
Glory Vase was registering his first Group 1 victory, but he’d come awfully close against Fierement in the April 28 Tenno Sho Spring (G1). The Tomohito Ozeki charge was also a better-than-appears fifth from post 18 in last fall’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1). Sparingly raced with just 10 lifetime starts now, Glory Vase scored his biggest win on home soil in January’s Nikkei Shinsun Hai (G2) at this trip.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Ozeki said. “Moreira did an amazing job riding the horse. We had a meeting together yesterday and felt good about our chances.”
“I was quite blessed to get in two off the fence, get cover and get him to relax,” Moreira said. “I had horses on top of me at the 800 meters but good horses, if they face a tough situation, they just go through with it and he wasn’t any different.
“He just kept himself in the gap and just before we turned for home I was kind of trapped and had to ride for luck. I sneaked on the inside and hoped the gap would come. Fortunately it did.
“When I got the gap he just dashed from the 350 (metres) and I knew I was the winner because I had plenty of horse underneath me and he was just attacking the line as a really good horse would.”
Glory Vase counts as his third dam champion Mejiro Ramonu, the first Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown winner (in its original form when Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup was the final leg). The four-year-old colt is out of Mejiro Tsubone by Swept Overboard.
Japan’s unexpected hero on the day was Admire Mars who sparked a $54.40 win payout in the Mile. The marketed had pinpointed compatriot Indy Champ as the biggest danger to two-time defending champion Beauty Generation. Instead it was the three-year-old who rose to the occasion, after the recent passing of his owner, Riichi Kondo.
Last year’s Japanese champion two-year-old colt by virtue of his Asahi Hai Futurity (G1), Admire Mars added the NHK Mile Cup (G1) against fellow sophomores. Yet he was coming off a ninth in the Fuji (G3). That nondescript effort in his first try versus elders might have dissuaded bettors, but not new rider Christophe Soumillon.
“I knew my horse was very strong, although his last run wasn’t that good,” Soumillon said. “He was the best two-year-old last year in Japan, probably the best three-year-old in Japan too.
“I knew he could stay that distance quite well, he has good gate speed, he liked the ground, so I was quite happy. I told the lad before the race when I saw the odds on the screen ‘there’s something wrong there because for me he should be in the first four favorites.’ I rode my race as if he was the favorite and it paid off.
“The first time I saw Beauty Generation running this year, and last time also, I saw he didn’t have the magic he had last year, so that gave me a chance to think that he was beatable.”
Indeed, for the third straight race, Beauty Generation didn’t perform up to his ranking as the world’s top miler. After attending early leader Ka Ying Star, he struck the front in the stretch but did not maintain his position.
Meanwhile, Soumillon, who had Admire Mars well placed in Beauty Generation’s slipstream, angled out and launched the winning move. Runner-up Waikuku wasn’t as fortunate after dropping anchor from the far outside post 10. His final quarter in a field-best :22.09 wasn’t enough to peg back Admire Mars’ :22.22 from a better tactical position, and the Hong Konger had to settle for second by a half-length.
Beauty Generation, who was trying to emulate the legendary Good Ba Ba’s three-peat, faded to third. Japanese filly Normcore, ironically the Fuji winner, reported home fourth, one spot better than fellow shipper Persian Knight. Citron Spirit was sixth, trailed by Indy Champ, who put himself in a tough spot from the break according to jockey Damian Lane; Zaaki; Ka Ying Star; and Simply Brilliant.
Admire Mars completed the metric mile in 1:33.25, becoming the first sophomore to prevail since Additional Risk in the inaugural running in 1991.
“I did think this was going to be a difficult race for a three-year-old to win,” trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said, “but when I saw how he had settled here earlier this week, I thought that he looked really well.”
Tomomichi also mentioned a touching tribute to the late Kondo.
“We were all going to wear the same suit and tie together, so it still feels as if Mr. Kondo is with us watching the race. He was a big supporter for me for a long time, he had many good horses, and he was a very good person.”
A half-brother to Group 1-placed stakes winner Via Pisa and Group 2-placed stakes vixen Via Firenze, Admire Mars is out of the Group 3-winning Medicean mare Via Medici.
Budding Hong Kong star Aethero was favored to make history as a three-year-old in the Sprint, but the speed merchant couldn’t hang on late. The two best of Size’s quintet, champion sprinter Beat the Clock and Hot King Prawn, bore down, with the former getting the nod in the three-way finish. By posting 1:08.12 for about six furlongs, Beat the Clock paid $13 and gave Moreira a quick HKIR double after Glory Vase.
Mr Stunning, the two-time defending champion, ran a massive race in fourth considering it was just his second start back from a stress fracture. Full of Beauty; Wishful Thinker; D B Pin, who flew his last quarter in :22.02; Japan’s Danon Smash, the lone international; Seasons Bloom; Rattan; Ivictory; and Regency Legend concluded the order under the wire. Little Giant and Australian shipper In Her Time were scratched.
The ultra-reliable Beat the Clock, third in the 2018 Sprint, has never finished out of the top three in 23 starts. The Australian-bred by Hinchinbrook was earning his third Group 1, after the Centenary Sprint Cup (G1) and Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1) earlier this year.
“He is such a good horse, so consistent, he tries his best always and being his rider is just unforgettable,” said Moreira, who would also win three on the undercard to enjoy a five-win day.
“When the gates opened he wasn’t fast enough. He didn’t settle where we wanted him to be – which was a pair closer – but once we were turning for home I could feel I had plenty in my hands and I realized he was coming to win the race with one furlong to go.
“This will be in the back of my mind all my life,” Moreira added. “I’ve been associated with this horse for quite some time. Some people were doubting how good he was and rating him second to other horses in the race. He went there to prove today he’s the best sprinter in Hong Kong. And the best part of it is I don’t think that’s it, I think there’s more to come from him.”
Size marveled at Beat the Clock’s moral fiber.
“It’s just his character I guess, his will to win and fighting spirit,” his trainer said. “All the good things that good horses have, he has all those attributes. He helps himself a lot with his training. He saves his energy for raceday. I think he’ll sleep for a week now. He used every ounce of energy in his body in today’s effort and it’s humbling to see a horse do that actually.
“He’s a joy when he comes to the races, I can assure you of that. You’re going to come home with a check no matter what; he’s been an absolute pleasure. He was extremely brave in the run today. He didn’t look like he was going to win but we know with him he’s just not done until the finishing line comes up.
“It’s very humbling to watch a horse like that. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s actually not much to do with me in the last 50 or 100 yards. We just keep them out of harm’s way and get them to the races to do their best so it’s an unusual feeling and hard to describe; someone who’s more of an orator than me might be able to tell you.”
Beat the Clock is inbred 3×3 to Danehill, with his dam being the Group 3-placed Lion Hunter mare Flion Fenena.