December 8, 2023

Normcore dethrones Win Bright, tops Japanese exacta in Hong Kong Cup

Normcore wins the Hong Kong Cup (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

While 19-10 favorite Magical had to settle for a valiant third, the other distaffer in Sunday’s $3.6 million Hong Kong Cup (G1), Normcore, rallied best of all to deny defending champion Win Bright in an all-Japanese exacta. Japan was celebrating a second big win on the day, after Danon Smash upset the Hong Kong Sprint (G1).

The first female since Snow Fairy (2010) to land the Cup, Normcore was elevating jockey Zac Purton in the Hong Kong International Races record book. Purton had been tied with Gerald Mosse for the most HKIR wins, but with this ninth victory, he has the all-time leading rider status all to himself.

Owned by Seiichi Iketani and trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara, Normcore was let go at 9-1 following a subpar 16th in the Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1) at Kyoto. But the gray beat males two back in the Sapporo Kinen (G2) at this about 1 1/4-mile distance, and she’d previously proven her Grade 1 mettle.

Normcore had scored her signature win in the 2019 Victoria Mile (G1) in a record 1:30.5 at Tokyo. Fourth in the Hong Kong Mile (G1) on HKIR Day a year ago, she was third to the great Almond Eye in her Victoria Mile title defense May 17, and fourth to Gran Alegria and Almond Eye in the June 7 Yasuda Kinen (G1). Gran Alegria also loomed large in the formline of Danon Smash, and the Japanese champion was boosted again in an entirely different sort of contest here.

Fans of Magical had cause for concern right out of the gate, when the celebrated Ballydoyle mare was not quick into stride from the rail, and unable to secure a good position. Further back than ideal for her running style, she could not quite dig her way out of it.

Meanwhile, Time Warp was dictating the pace as he likes, tracked by Japan’s Danon Premium, who did not appear to relax, and Furore. Win Bright was perched in fourth, and Normcore kept Magical locked up on the fence.

Danon Premium took command entering the stretch, but his compatriots were fanning out with more in reserve than he had. Win Bright made relentless if steady headway, and Normcore was summoning her miler speed to overtake him.

With a field-best final quarter in :22.84, Normcore drove three-quarters of a length clear of Win Bright. Magical also quickened well in :22.97, but the wire came too soon, and she just missed second in the photo with Win Bright. Danon Premium tired to fourth, followed by Furore, Dances with Dragon, the slow-starting Skalleti, and the tailed-off Time Warp.

“She (Normcore) had to fight for it,” Purton said. “Win Bright gave a really sharp kick, and his love for Sha Tin was starting to show through.

“But she was determined and inch by inch, she just kept putting herself in the frame.”

Purton’s good fortune came at the expense of Christophe Soumillon, who was booked to ride until he couldn’t clear the pandemic protocols. Soumillon had missed out on two Breeders’ Cup winners thanks to a positive COVID-19 test at Keeneland, Mile (G1) shocker Order of Australia and Turf (G1) queen Tarnawa. He’d tested negative upon entering quarantine in Hong Kong Nov. 26, in expectation of riding Sunday. The Department of Health would not give him an unconditional release, however, until he was tested again, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club stewards took him off his mounts.

Ironically, Purton thought he’d had the mount on Normcore until “Soumi” became available. Connections ended up going right back to Hong Kong’s reigning champion jockey.

“Initially we sort of confirmed the ride, and then when it was announced Christophe was coming, they changed their mind,” Purton said. “They’re entitled to do that.

“It was what it was, I just had to accept that. Thankfully, it came back.”

His HKIR windfall capped a banner week. At Happy Valley Wednesday, Purton won the International Jockeys’ Championship, and surpassed the elusive 1,200-win threshold in Hong Kong. Only the retired Douglas Whyte, the longtime leader of the jockey colony, has won more (1,813).

Magical might have failed in her bid to add an eighth Group 1 to her name, but the trainer/jockey tandem of Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore were pleased with her effort.

“There was a lack of pace,” Moore said, “so therefore I couldn’t go where I wanted to go. She ran well.”

O’Brien offered a trial balloon regarding Magical’s possibly returning to the races in 2021.

“She ran a stormer,” O’Brien said according to Horse Racing Ireland. “She’s a tough racer even in bad ground, and often doing something like that (her second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf [G1] at Keeneland) takes the sting out of you.

“She was a little bit lackluster from the gate in the first half but she’s an unbelievable filly really to still produce a run like that.

“She would have preferred the run to be a bit faster after her start but I’m delighted that she pulled up well.

“She looks great after the race and she pulled up sound. I suppose the lads will take a look at her and decide. If she comes home well we’d love to have her for next year.”

Like Magical, Normcore will soon turn 6 years old. The daughter of Harbinger has compiled a career mark of 17-7-1-3, her other stakes wins including the 2018 Shion (G3) at this trip as well as the 2019 Fuji (G3) over a metric mile.

Normcore is an older half-sister to Chrono Genesis, who herself earned a major win versus males in the June 28 Takarazuka Kinen (G1). They were produced by the Kurofune mare Chronologist, a close relative of Japanese champion Fusaichi Richard.