Hong Kong's international races lived up to their name Sunday as Agnes Digital's victory in the HK$18 million Hong Kong Cup led a near-sweep of the day's events for Japan.
In addition to the Cup, Japanese horses accounted for the HK$14 million Hong Kong Vase at 2400 meters and the HK$14 million Hong Kong Mile. They failed only in the HK$8 million Sprint -- as horses from Australia and the United States repeated their 1-2 finish of a year ago.
"I think you can see from today that the Japanese horses are underestimated," said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Added Toshiaki Shirai, trainer of Agnes Digital, "I think that from this point onward, you will see many more Japanese horses competing in international races."
And jockey Frankie Dettori, who twice finished second to a Japanese horse on Sunday while riding for the Dubai-based Godolphin racing, chimed in: "The Japanese had a very strong team and they won three races. Congratulations to them."
Agnes Digital, an American-bred son of Crafty Prospector, capped the day for Japan with a hard-won victory in the Cup. Dettori had Tobugg on the lead at mid-stretch, only to be passed on the outside by Agnes Digital, with a French-bred filly, Terre A Terre, also charging down the middle of the track.
Tobugg fought back but couldn't quite get back to even terms with Agnes Digital, who scored by a head. The French standard-bearer was another neck back in third, followed by Hawkeye, representing Great Britain.
Jockey Hirofumi Shii put Agnes Digital into the running early in the 2000-meter race to deal with a short run into the first turn.
"I felt we had to get near to the front so we came around the turn in very strong position," he said. "From that point onward, I felt that victory was in our hands."
Shirai said he would like to run Agnes Digital back in the Dubai World Cup next March, with a stop at the Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park near Chicago also on the schedule for late summer. Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, said he expects Tobugg to continue to improve next year as a 4-year-old so the Hong Kong Cup could have been the start of a major international rivalry.
The Vase may have been the day's most exciting race. Again, Dettori had his Godolphin mount, Ekraar, out and winging early, leading by as much as 5 lengths turning for home. But this time it was Japanese contender Stay Gold,
with superstar jockey Yutaka Take up, who came along to spoil the effort. Digging in gamely, Stay Gold, a 7-year-old son of Sunday Silence, was just up in the final jumps to win by a head. Local favorite Indigenous was third.
"This was just like a miracle," Take said. "He was running on his own. He wants to win very desperately."
The race was Stay Gold's last. He won for the seventh time in 50 career starts.
Zenno El Cid was Japan's best hope in the Mile. But, showing the depth of the island nation's racing contingent, it was Eishin Preston who came storming down the middle of the track in the stretch run to win going away. Hong Kong-based Electronic Unicorn was second and China Vist, another Godolphin horse, was third. Forbidden Apple, second in the Breeders' Cup Mile in his last previous start, finished fourth on Sunday representing the United States.
The Sprint, at 1000 meters on a straight course, was a reprise of the 2000 running. Falvelon, representing Australia, got home a short head in front of Morluc, based in the United States. All Thrills Too, a Hong Kong horse, was third.
The Cup was the final race of the Emirates World Series but had no bearing on the outcome, which was dominated by Godolphin. The Dubai-based outfit won
all the titles -- top runner with the already retired Fantastic Light, owner, trainer (Suroor) and jockey (Dettori).
Emirates Airlines has withdrawn as title sponsor of the series and no replacement has been announced. However, representatives of the race tracks involved also announced Sunday that they have added two races to their series for next year -- the Queen Elizabeth II at Hong Kong and the Singapore Cup.
In other weekend racing:
Siphonic, perhaps the best-running non-winner on Breeders' Cup day, confirmed his form with an impressive, 3 ½-length score in Saturday's $450,000 Hollywood Futurity. With Jerry Bailey in specifically for the ride, Siphonic was too good for the rest of the field, finishing the 1 1/16 mile in
1:42. Fonz was second, ½ length ahead of Officer, who confirmed his form as a sprinter. Siphonic drew the rail for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was stuck on the dead rail and still ran a bang-up third. "That's the reason I came (to California)," said Bailey, who rode Siphonic for the first time in the Breeders' Cup.
"I thought he would do that and he did. He lived up to my expectations. Trainer David Hofmans said he will keep the colt in California and try to keep him fresh for the classics next spring.
"Right now, we don't
have to worry about ducking anybody," he said. "It's a pretty good position."
Siphonic, a son of 1996 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Siphon, has won three of four career starts. Officer, meanwhile, will return to shorter distances.
"Just too far," trainer Bob Baffert said of Saturday's trip. "Still, he's a fast horse and we're going to have fun with him."
If the Futurity stamped Siphonic as the best early West Coast hope for the 2002 Kentucky Derby, Sunday's $350,000 Hollywood Starlet did the same for Habibti. The Tabasco Cat filly caught pace-setting You entering the stretch and fought off a second effort from that rival to win by a head. Tali'sluckybusride was third. Habibti ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.12. Habibti was disappointing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile fillies after breaking from the No. 1 hole. You, the favorite in that race, finished fourth.
"She was going two turns for the first time (in the Starlet) and she doesn't train
over here, so it's a little bit of a disadvantage," said Baffert, who trains Habibti. "It just goes to show you the caliber of filly she really is."
On Saturday's undercard, Starrer used an outside trip to capture the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap by 1 length over Queenie Belle. Tropical Lady was third in the 1 1/16-mile event, clocked in 1:42.52. Starrer, a 3-year-old daughter of Dynaformer with Jerry Bailey up, stalked the early pace, made a three-wide move on the backstretch and was four-wide on the turn before reaching the front. David Hofmans is the winning trainer.
And in Saturday's third stakes, Verruma beat Vencera by ½ length for a "sounds like" exacta in the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap. Verruma ran 1 1/16 mile on the green in 1:43 1/5.
On getaway day on Monday, Lake William scored a minor upset over Texas Glitter in the $70,000 Dajur Handicap. Lake William, a 5-year-old son of Salt Lake, overhauled the pressured pace-setter in the final furlong, winning by 1 length. Shadow Caster was third. The 5 ½ furlongs on the grass took 1:02.52.
Here's Zealous caught Run Kush Run midway down the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Gravesend Handicap for 3-year-olds and up and powered on to win by 4 lengths. Peeping Tom rallied from far back to finish second and Say Florida Sandy was third in the 6-furlong test.
"I started walking down to the winner's circle when they crossed the quarter pole," said winning trainer Richard Dutrow. "This horse has and explosive turn of foot when he switches leads."
Sunday, Eye of the Comet rallied from last of seven to win the $75,000
Damon Runyan Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds by 6 ¾ lengths over Netcong. No Parole was third and the favorite, White Ibis, finished fifth after stumbling at the start.
"They all made fun of me the first time I took him to Belmont - being a $950 yearling purchase," said Eye of the Comet's owner, Cecil Fiske. He said trainer Sal Iorio Jr. probably will point the Comet Shine colt to the Big Apple Triple.
Calder Race Course
Amelia got to the outside in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Frances A. Genter Stakes and took command in the late going, winning by a neck over Sara's Success. Ing Ing was third as the favorite. Winning trainer Shug McGaughey said he wanted jockey Javier Castellano to do just what he did - get Amelia going from mid-pack on the turn. "Then, it was just a matter of whether she could get up in time and she did," he added. He said he will send Amelia to Payson Park for a rest and resume her career late in the Gulfstream meet.
La Recherche went to the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $100,000 Pago Hop Handicap, led the field around the turf course and held on to win by a nose over Twilite Tryst. Stal Quest was just another nose back in third.
"It was a great tactical ride by Ronald (Ardoin)," said winning trainer Tom Amoss. "Post position (the rail) definitely made the difference. She ran fantastic and I know this is her best distance." La Recherche finished the "about" 1 mile in 1:39 4/5.
Fighting Falcon, breaking from the outside, was carried wide on the first turn in Saturday's $75,000 Paradise Mile, worked his way into contention a half mile out and got home first by 1 length with a strong stretch effort. King Slayer was second and Bristolville third as part of the favored entry with Eagleton, who finished fourth. Fighting Falcon, as 5-year-old son of Manila trained by Simon Bray, finished in 1:38.00.
Crafty Shaw put away Horrible Evening a half mile through Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes and rolled home a winner by 1 ¾ lengths over a late-running Double Affair. Glacial was third. Crafty Shaw, a 3-year-old son of Crafty Prospector, trained by Peter Vestal, finished the 9 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:50.85
Grundlefoot took the outside path around the leaders on the turn and drew
off to win Saturday's $50,000 Walter Haight Handicap by an easy 5 ¼ lengths. Cowboy Magic was second and Summerset third. The favorite, Concerned Minister, led but faded to finish fourth. "When we got to the turn, I let him do what he wanted and he took off," said winning rider Ramon Dominguez, who picked up his 17th stakes win on the year. The win also was Dominguez' 415th of 2001 and he leads all riders in that stat.
Hawthorne Race Course
White O Morn upset Saturday's $100,000 Illinois Breeders' Debutante Stakes with a stirring stretch effort. The filly went after pace-setting favorite Summer Mis on the turn, caught her about the sixteenth pole and drew clear to win by 2 ½ lengths. Gracility was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:49.75.
Tampa Bay Downs
Bog Hunter didn't bog down at all in Saturday's $50,000 Inaugural Staeks for 2-year-olds. The son of Hunting Hard broke cleanly, went right to the front and fought off a challenge from Showmeitall before winning by 1 ¼ lengths. Showmeitall held second with How About My Place taking third. Bog Hunter got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.43.