The Hong Kong International Races, a self-styled “world turf championships” saw raiders from England and Japan take the top prize in the first two events, and a pair of veteran Hong Kong stars to save the day for a cheering crowd of more than 70,000 at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Vase provided a tip that the day would have an unusual flavor. Red Cadeaux, making his third Gr1 start in five weeks for British trainer Ed Dunlop – and in three different countries – outfinished Japan’s Jaguar Mail down the stretch to win by a short head. Meandre, in from France, took third and Liberator was the fourth as the best Hong Kong could do. The 2,400 meters of the Vase is an unusual distance for Hong Kong racing.
Jockey Gerald Mosse said despite the narrow margin, “If he had to go one more lap, no one would catch him.”
Red Cadeaux finished eighth in the Gr1 Melbourne Cup in Australia on Nov. 6, victimized by a slow pace. He again finished eight in the Gr1 Japan Cup in Tokyo on Nov. 25, the victim of bumping and cuts on his legs.
“He’s an iron horse,” Dunlop said. “He deserved to win this race.” He said he will target the Melbourne Cup again in 2013 but will consider starting the season in Dubai.
Japan broke through in the $1.9 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint – a race won by local horses nine of the last 10 years. This time, Lord Kanaloa stepped onto the international stage with a dramatic stretch run that found him winning by 2 1/2 lengths over pacesetting South African-bred Cerise Cherry. Captain Sweet finished third.
The 4-year-old had been sprinting well in top company in Japan all year, finishing with a win in the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in September. Asked if Sunday’s win will give him confidence to take Lord Kanaloa to other international venues, jockey Yasunari Iwata said, “He’s a very talented sprinter, so he could. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda noted Japan had never won a Hong Kong Sprint but predicted Lord Kanaloa “will be a pioneer for Japanese in this race. There will be others.”
It was Hong Kong’s turn in the $2.6 million Longines Hong Kong Mile.
Ambitious Dragon, the two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year came into the race with a lot of question marks – a recent defeat, a wide draw and an injury on Saturday that required trainer Tony Millard to walk him in the stable area until nearly midnight on the eve of the race.
But the 6-year-old overcame it all. Breaking out of the No. 11 gate, he settled at the back of the field and waited until the field was ready to turn into the stretch. When jockey Zac Purton was ready, he swung around the entire field and “the Dragon,” as he’s known in Hong Kong, unleashed a powerful kick that saw him home first by 3/4 length over Glorious Days, the horse who upset him in the final local prep.
Packing OK made it a clean sweep of the top spots for the Hong Kong team.
“It was really trying,” Millard said of Ambitious Dragon’s unfortunately timed leg injury. “Up to 11 last night, we were walking the horse. He got better, hour by hour. When I left at midnight, I felt good about his chances.”
Purton said his mount didn’t show any lingering effects of the injury. “He felt fine when he was out there on the track,” the jockey said. “I just had to let him roll into gear. I never hit him with the whip. It was a pretty soft win.”
The final Group 1 race, the $2.8 million Longines Hong Kong Cup went the defending champion, California Memory — and in decisive fashion.
Breaking from the inside post, jockey Matthew Chadwick positioned the light gray 6-year-old nicely on the rail, letting others do the early work. It appeared briefly at the top of the lane that pacesetter Dan Excel might have stolen the race but first California Memory, then French raider Giofra and then Australian Alcopop came calling and they finished in that order. California Memory was in front by 1 length and won decisively.
The race lost its prospective star, Cirrus des Aigles, to a minor injury at mid-week. Another local hopeful, Sweet Orange, was scratched on Friday.
Chadwick said the No. 1 draw “was the best draw you could pick out of a hat. He can jump (from the gate) really well. From there on out, it was a patient game.”
Of the stretch move, Chadwick added, “Really, he put them to bed in three or four strides.”
Trainer Tony Cruze, noting unsuccessful trips to Group 1 races in Dubai and Singapore earlier this year, said he expects to keep California Memory home in 2013. “We have a sure thing here,” he said.