SA jockey Grant van Niekerk came within a head of landing his first Hong Kong Gr1 at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Van Niekerk was aboard Thanks Forever but it was Beat The Clock who displayed the class that has made him a champion to complete back-to-back wins in the HK$10 million Centenary Sprint Cup.
The ever-reliable bay’s narrow victory sealed a Group 1 double on the day for trainer John Size and jockey Joao Moreira, following Waikuku’s defeat of Beauty Generation in the Stewards’ Cup (1600m).
Beat The Clock’s success was his fourth at the highest level and maintained his incredible record of placing top three in all 24 career starts – 10 in the prime spot.
“Good horses always know where the finish line is and they know what they’re being asked for, which is to cross that finish line first,” Moreira said of Hong Kong’s champion sprinter.
But all was not plain sailing for the Brazilian and his mount. Plan A was binned when Beat The Clock was last to break in the seven-runner field, forcing his rider to improvise.
“I was a bit worried about it but there was nothing I could have done about it,” Moreira said. “Just a fraction before the gates opened he wanted to lunge into the front gates and when he was coming back, that was when the gates opened, so he wasn’t able to step out with them.
“He quickly got back into the race. I had to give him a chance from there, just ride for luck and the split came at the right time. Once again he proved that he’s probably the best sprinter in Hong Kong.”
Beat The Clock cruised into the slipstream of the pace-setting Thanks Forever with 300m to race, and when stablemate Full Of Beauty rolled out a fraction, Moreira gave the winner his cue to accelerate between the pair.
The six-year-old wound up and hit the lead approaching the final 100m and held the battling Thanks Forever by a head with another Size-trained galloper Hot King Prawn third. The winning time was 1m 08.57s after Beat The Clock sprinted the final 400m in 21.91s.
“He seems to overcome the circumstances of a race, whatever they may be, to win. That’s something you can’t deal with, he just does it himself,” Size said of last month’s Gr1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) hero.
“He gives you a very nervous time and a very nervous feel but it’s one of relief when they deliver. That’s a high-rating win, his last win, so to repeat that is very difficult but that just means he’s got more there. He’s a worthy winner of four Group 1s and he deserves it.”
Moreira also stressed his belief that Beat The Clock has more in the tank.
“When he gets in front it looks like he’s just going to run away but he just doesn’t want to put his neck in front, he just stays there. I can feel there is more in there but he’s just not giving – I don’t mind because as long as he crosses the line first I’m happy!” Hong Kong’s three-time champion jockey said.
Beat The Clock has placed second in the last two editions of the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) – behind Beauty Generation – and that assignment is an option once again.
“It’s the next race on the programme that’s suitable for him,” Size said. “He’s raced in the last two editions of it so we’ll see how he is at home; he’s getting older and whether he can tolerate another race that quickly I’m not sure but he’ll let us know.”
Size has won seven of the last 10 Gr1 sprint races in Hong Kong, all with horses imported as unraced youngsters, but he quashed any notion that there is a secret formula to that success.
“There’s no secret,” he said. “You need a bit of luck when horses come and they hit the ground running and then you have to manage them through. There’s a lot of luck as well as good management.”
John Moore, meanwhile, is keen to look at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup as the next outing for runner-up Thanks Forever, the lowest-rated of today’s combatants with a pre-race mark of 102.
“You have to say that’s probably the best run of his life. I think he’s getting used to going around a corner now,” said Moore, whose star sprinter Aethero missed Sunday’s contest.
“He’ll go up a lot for running second so he’s destroyed in the handicap, so let’s go back, see how he is, and then go to the Silver Jubilee before coming back to 1200 (metres).”
Beat The Clock was an A$70,000 yearling consigned by Yarraman Park Stud at the 2015 Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale & subsequently a A$200,000 juvenile consigned by Prima Park Bloodstock at the 2015 NZB 2YO Horses in Training Sale.
- Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 22 January.