The celebratory atmosphere of Sunday’s Hong Kong International Races was dashed midway through the Sha Tin card when tragedy struck in the $3 million Hong Kong Sprint (G1). Sky Field held off the closing Resistencia at the wire, but thoughts were all for the horses and riders involved in a catastrophic spill.
As the field turned for home, pace-attending Amazing Star broke down abruptly, and so badly, that he collapsed onto the turf while unseating Lyle Hewitson. Three of his rivals, and their jockeys, had no chance to avoid a horrific fall themselves. Favored Lucky Patch, who was drafting just behind Amazing Star, was next to go down, with leading rider Zac Purton, followed by Naboo Attack (ridden by Karis Teetan) and Japan’s Pixie Knight (with Yuichi Fukunaga). Defending champion Danon Smash, on Lucky Patch’s outside flank, was able to leap over the fallen and stay on his feet, although losing all chance.
Seven remained in the race down the stretch. A few had been hampered while reacting to the spill, including Resistencia, who was scrimmaging with eventual winner Sky Field. Unaffected were the two in front, pacesetter Computer Patch and Courier Wonder. Upon straightening, Courier Wonder took over, only to wander around.
By that point, the Caspar Fownes-trained Sky Field was beginning to gather steam for Blake Shinn. The 21-1 shot had suggested he was up to this level when placing third in the Apr. 25 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1), and his recent third in the Nov. 21 Jockey Club Sprint (G2) likewise boded well. Picking up strongly to collar the wayward Courier Wonder, Sky Field beat the closing Resistencia to the punch.
Sky Field, whose dam is a half to Fownes’ 2006 Hong Kong Mile (G1) upsetter The Duke, was three-quarters of a length up in 1:08.66 for about six furlongs on the good turf. Resistencia was the same margin in front of Courier Wonder. Another half-length back came a rather dour Hot King Prawn, followed by Stronger, Computer Patch, and Wellington. Danon Smash completed the course, eased by Yuga Kawada, who later guided Loves Only You to victory in the Hong Kong Cup (G1). Teetan was the only other jockey involved who was cleared to continue riding.
The rest were transported to the hospital, where Hewitson was diagnosed with a hip fracture, Fukunaga with a fractured left clavicle, and Purton with a broken nose and ribs. Lucky Patch lived up to his name by apparently escaping without serious injury, at least at the time of the stewards’ report. According to Japanese media, Pixie Knight fractured his left knee. Sadly, Amazing Star, who sustained injuries to both forelegs in his catastrophic breakdown, had to be euthanized. Adding to the tragedy, Naboo Attack was also euthanized after examination of the injury to his right front.
Sky Field’s connections were obviously stricken by the circumstances of his new career high. The Australian-bred son of Deep Field and the O’Reilly mare Laravissante had previously scored in the June 20 Premier Cup H. (G3) over another furlong.
“Definitely watching the run live, it was nasty and we’ve got mixed emotions there,” Fownes said. “One hand you’ve got a horse that is trucking along, at the same time in your mind you’re thinking about ‘I hope the boys are all right and the horses.’
“It was nice to get that result with that particular horse, especially for Blake. He’s been riding really well and again today another good performance, so well deserved.”
“I have mixed emotions for winning this race today,” Shinn said. “Obviously, the first emotion is that my feelings are with the fallen jockeys and horses out there.
“It’s gut-wrenching for any rider to see a horse go down. What’s happened today, it’s a real bittersweet win and in a way it’s a hard win to take in the circumstances.
“All credit to Caspar Fownes, he’s given me the opportunity to ride this lovely animal over the previous season and this season.
“We’ve always had faith in him but on the big stage things haven’t always gone this way. Today, he performed to his best today and still beat a handy horse in chasing down a top-line horse in Courier Wonder and the Japanese horse (Resistencia).”
Resistencia’s rider, Christophe Soumillon, believed that her trouble on the turn cost her the race.
“The filly ran well. Unfortunately, we had a bad movement in the turn. I had to shift in to run away from the fallen horses,” Soumillon said. “The winner pushed me out in the straight. She gave me a very good effort. It nearly looks a bit short for her today. I think over 1400 meters, she will be even better.”
HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges offered his thoughts on the sad turn of events.
“As wonderful as the racing was today, we also had the unfortunate and tragic circumstances in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, where there was an accident,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “Our thoughts are with the injured jockeys and we wish Zac Purton, Lyle Hewitson and Yuichi Fukunaga a speedy recovery. Nobody likes to see these accidents, and the owners of the horses involved are also in our thoughts.”
Fownes, Hong Kong’s reigning champion trainer, is looking forward to Sky Field’s future endeavors in a happier context.
“I’ve said it for a while that he’s pretty special, and I think he’s got his best racing ahead of him. We’ve got something really nice to work with, and it’s nice to see him do that today.”