Joao Moreira took the bull by the horns to win his first Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday, 30 April 2017, when Neorealism repelled Pakistan Star’s late rally to ensure a fourth Japanese victory in the HK$20 million feature.
“It’s so special to win such a race, and a race that I haven’t won before. The first is always very special!” said Moreira after crossing the line a fist-pumping neck ahead of the Hong Kong Derby runner-up Pakistan Star, with last year’s APQEII Cup victor, Werther, a further short-head away in third. The winning time was 2m 04.59s.
The Noriyuki Hori-trained Neorealism had been pinned as a likely leader in the eight-runner field, but after missing the kick, Moreira slotted in towards the back of the pack. Australian raider The United States found himself the reluctant pace-setter under Brett Prebble but, after that rival dictated pedestrian opening 400-metre splits of 28.03s and 26.77s, Moreira decided enough was enough and approaching the 1000m mark, the champion jockey let the reins slip and the 4.5 chance rolled to the fore.
“He didn’t really jump as well as we expected,” said Hong Kong’s ‘Magic Man’. “We thought he was going to be able to lead, but as he jumped a little bit slowly I had to give him a chance to get cover behind horses. The pace slowed so much on the back straight so I had to pop out and get going. He got going, but he wasn’t at his top speed, so I was always confident that once we turned for home he was going to finish off strongly, which he did. It actually worked out pretty good because I was able to get him relaxed initially.”
That move sent Pakistan Star from a close-up third, one-back on the fence, to four and a half lengths fifth and pumping at the 700m mark.
Up ahead, with his rivals measured and weighed, Moreira shook the reins at the turn-in and crouched for the drive home. The flashy Japanese raider responded with every stride, holding off his immediate challengers Blazing Speed and Werther and then lunging determinedly to withstand Pakistan Star’s late thrust.
“He doesn’t seem to be a horse that would sit and sprint, so the early move, I think, was the key to getting him to win,” Moreira added. “Mr. Hori gave me the freedom in case things happened the way they did today – I would have gone a little bit earlier, but I think it worked out perfectly this way. Japanese horses are strong everywhere they go!”
Japanese show of strength
The six-year-old chestnut, ninth on his only previous visit to Sha Tin when below par in December’s G1 Hong Kong Mile, followed Eishin Preston (2002, 2003) and Rulership (2012) as a Japanese winner of the spring feature. For Hori, it was a fifth win in Hong Kong from 11 starts – equating to five G1 wins at the course in the past 17 months and making him the winning-most G1 visiting trainer in Hong Kong history.
“In December he had had a tough programme and it was difficult for him to keep his condition, but he learned a lot from that and that helped him on this second visit to Hong Kong and he was able to improve on that,” said Hori. “We talked about race tactics and possible patterns before the race, but Joao gave him the best ride. Joao rode him in morning track work so he got to know a bit about the horse and that was good for him.”
The 2015 JRA champion trainer will be considering future options for the Neo Universe entire – a three parts brother to dual-hemisphere stallion Real Impact. Neorealism was notching a first win at top level after G2 wins in last August’s 2000m Sapporo Kinen (defeating triple Sha Tin G1 winner Maurice) and February’s 1800m G2 Nakayama Kinen.
“There are some options,” Hori said, “not only domestically, but also international races, so we will check the horse when he gets back to Japan and then we will see where we go with him.”
Silvestre de Sousa was visibly deflated after dismounting Pakistan Star in second place. Less than 10 months after his brilliant debut win, the Tony Cruz-trained galloper continued his meteoric rise through the ranks, but was unable to claw back Neorealism despite another sensational closing stretch run in which he clocked a searing 21.95s for the final 400m. The Shamardal gelding, a graduate of the March 2016 Hong Kong International Sale and the market’s 2.8 second pick, was uncharacteristically sharp from the gate and raced keenly to the first turn as de Sousa attempted to settle with cover. “He ran a very good race,” commented de Sousa. “The pace was just too slow early. He got left behind when they sprinted, but finished off so well.”
Australian ace Hugh Bowman, the man in the spotlight 12 months ago after the John Moore-trained Werther’s wide-margin win, had to be content with third this time round. “Werther acquitted himself well,” he said of the even-money favourite. “It was very slow in the middle stages and that didn’t suit him. I thought the sprint home would suit, but the Japanese horse just got a break on us.”
Moreira rode a five-timer on the day, including a score aboard the John Moore-trained Eagle Way in the day’s supporting feature, the 2400m G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap.
A reported 33,208 strong crowd turned out to watch the day’s action, while the turnover was a record HK$1.434 billion – up more than six percent on last year.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 3 May.