It was a day for rising stars in Hong Kong as all three returning winners from last year’s Longines Hong Kong International Races bowed to promising youngsters on the Sunday programme that featured four Gr1 races sponsored by Longines.
Three of the four winners are 4-year-olds and the other is 3. Two came from Japan, one from England via the United States and Australia, and only one represented the local team, which often dominates this windup of the international racing schedule.
Ryan Moore rode two winners on the day in front of 80,811 fans who packed Sha Tin Racecourse.
Highland Reel completed a stellar 3-year-old season in the Gr1 Vase, dueling Flintshire into submission with an impressive stretch run.
The Irish-bred Galileo colt gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his first winner in the Hong Kong International Races as Moore booted him home first by 1 1/2 lengths over the runner-up in the Gr1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Dariyan was along to give France the second and third placings in the 2400-meter event.
Highland Reel went quickly to the front in the short run to the first turn on the Sha Tin turf, followed by veteran Cirrus des Aigles, who was making his sixth start in the HKIR. Moore then allowed longshot Harbour Master to shoot by to the lead entering the backstretch—”a change of plan, a little bit,” the rider said.
As the field headed into the turn, Flintshire sprinted to a brief and narrow lead, with Highland Reel in close pursuit. With 100 meters to go, Highland Reel began to edge away and quickly put the issue to rest. He finished in 2:28.43.
“He really wanted it,” Moore said. “Flintshire is a very high-class horse and he takes a lot of beating in races like this.”
Highland Reel, owned by the Coolmore partnership, got his season going for good at mid-summer with a victory in the Gr1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse. He was a credible fifth in the Qipco Irish Gr1 Champion Stakes behind Golden Horn, and then travelled to Australia, where he was third in the William Hill Gr1 Cox Plate before the Hong Kong run. He was bred by the Hveger Syndicate.
“He has had plenty of exposure around the world and a lot of experience,” said Moore, who noted he is looking forward to the colt’s 4-year-old season.
Flintshire was last year’s Vase victor, a bright spot amid a string of Gr1 runner-up finishes that plagues him. That skein includes two straight runnings of the Arc de Triomphe, the Gr1 Dubai Sheema Classic Presented by Longines , and the 2014 Gr1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
It was all Hong Kong in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint as Peniaphobia shot to the lead from the dreaded outside gate, eased things down during the middle furlongs and then held off the favourite, Gold-Fun, by a half-length under the wire.
Not Listenin’tome and Dundonnell completed the top four for the local team, which did not include last year’s winner, Aerovelocity.
The only two American runners on the card did not embarrass themselves in the Sprint.
Longines Gr1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday raced close to the lead into the stretch and kept going behind the winners to finish fifth, beaten just 4 1/2 lengths.
Green Mask, third in the Breeders’ Cup heat, was in the mix before getting home eighth, only six lengths in arrears. Neither seemed to have any problems with the unaccustomed right-handed turn.
Florent Geroux, aboard Mongolian Saturday, said his mount “was focused better early in the race but from the quarter-pole to the end, he was a little confused. The experience of this kind of trip will help him.” And Joel Rosario, who rode Green Mask, said the Wesley Ward trainee “ran nice and handled the bend fine.”
Peniaphobia “jumped out of the gate so great and he made the lead so easily,” said winning rider Joao Moreira, the “magic man,” who notched his 300th Hong Kong win.
Asked about Peniaphobia’s ability to switch off for a breather, Moreira said: “When you’re talking about great horses, it’s not that hard. He gave me a beautiful ride. I had to use him on the backstretch a little bit so (in the stretch) I held onto him as long as I could.”
Winning trainer Tony Cruz said the race went according to plan. As for the future, he said: “We anticipate Dubai, then maybe England as well.”
Peniaphobia is a 4-year-old gelding by Dandy Man, bred in Ireland by Aidan Fogerty.
In the Longines Hong Kong Mile, rising Japanese star Maurice broke a long stranglehold by local horses with a three-quarter-length victory.
Giant Treasure rode the rail to finish second and the heavy favourite, Able Friend, was a nose farther back in third.
The Mile was billed, and bet, as a virtual match race between Able Friend and Maurice.
Able Friend tracked the Japanese runner in mid-pack into the turn, when both accelerated as a team. But Able Friend was not able to go on as Maurice picked up his sixth straight victory. Giant Treasure barely split the two after saving all the ground.
Esoterique finished fourth for the French contingent.
Maurice, a 4-year-old colt by Screen Hero, finished in 1:33.92 with Moore up.
He quickly worked his way up the class ladder in Japan this season, winning the Gr1 Yasuda Kinen and the Gr1 Mile Championship in his two previous starts.
As impressive as the Hong Kong win was, Moore said it was not the colt’s best effort. “He was slightly more impressive on the day” in winning the Mile Championship in Kyoto, Moore said, pointing out Maurice had shipped outside Japan for the first time for Sunday’s race.
Hong Kong had not lost the Mile since 2005 when another Japanese runner, Hat Trick , turned the trick. Able Friend won last year’s edition amid a six-race winning streak. But he was cleared of a minor medical issue the morning of the race and suffered his third loss in his last four starts, dating back to a dismaying sixth-place showing in the Gr1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot.
Japan made it two in a row to complete the programme as 30-1 long shot A Shin Hikari set a torrid pace in the Cup and sailed home first, a length to the good of another Japanese runner, Nuovo Record. Blazing Speed saved some face for Hong Kong’s team, finishing third.
A Shin Hikari, with Yutaka Take in the irons, completed the 2000 meters in a blazing 2:00.60. The 4-year-old Deep Impact colt had won eight of his 10 lifetime starts but was competing in his first group I event.
“He was in very good condition and I had much confidence going into the race,” Take said through an interpreter. Asked whether the colt might return in the spring for the QE II Cup at Sha Tin, trainer Makoto Saito said: “I will have to talk with the owner about that.”
Last year’s Cup winner, Designs On Rome, ran well but settled for fourth, 3 3/4 lengths off the winner. Free Eagle, winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot, extended his losing streak to four with a last-place finish.