Hong Kong has quickly moved its racing program to the front ranks of international competition, with plans to do even more in the coming years. Those efforts got a big boost Sunday, as locally based horses won three of the four Group I Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, including the Hong Kong Cup.
In two of the events, local runners finished 1-2.
"What a day!" said Lawrence Wong, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. "Certainly the greatest day in Hong Kong racing."
The home team sent out the favorite, All Thrills Too, in the Sprint and he did not disappoint, defeating Firebolt by 1 ½ lengths. Falvelon, who won the race in 2001 and 2000, finished third Sunday behind the two Hong Kong-based runners. Texas Glitter struggled home eighth.
Winning jockey Gerald Mosse said he had "a dream run, with great cover midfield. He is normally a bit keen but he was quiet today - almost too quiet at the 400 meters."
The other two home-team victories were stunning upsets, indeed.
Olympic Express, dispatched at odds of 48-1, took the lead 200 meters out in the Hong Kong Mile and held on to beat locally based Electronic Unicorn by a neck. Tokai Point was third. The big favorite, Noverre, was eighth under the wire.
"He traveled so well for me," said winning rider Weichong Marwing. "I knew I had a great chance entering the straight....It's incredible. A great feeling."
And in the featured Hong Kong Cup - the final race of the 2002 World Series Racing Championship - Precision scored a 66-1 upset with the help of a slow early pace and some traffic problems on the inside.
"I had a smooth run on the outside, while everyone else was having a tough time on the rail," said Mick Kinane, who rode Precision to a head victory over German-based Paolini. Dano-Mast, a Danish runner, was third, just a half length farther back. The 2000 meters went in 2:07 1/5.
Grandera, who won the Series overall championship on the basis of earlier efforts, never got into the Cup chase and finished well back. "The pace was too slow," said his rider, Frankie Dettori. "It killed me. He needs a strong or even tempo. Then I couldn't get out and it's a shame because I was on the best horse in the race."
The only race won by an outsider was the Hong Kong Vase. In that event, France's Ange Gabriel came running late on the outside to win by ¾ length over Aquarelliste. Falcon Flight was third.
Last year, Japanese-based horses won three of the Hong Kong International Races. But Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Executive Director of Racing, said Sunday's results prove Hong Kong has earned its place in the sun.
"We want to stage the Turf World Championships and after today's action, you would have to say that we are absolutely on target," he said. "The replacement strategy brought in two years ago to improve the quality of Hong Kong's horses has proved successful today."
Godolphin Racing, trainer Saeed bin Suroor and Dettori easily won their respective championships in the World Series standings. The top five horses in the final standings were Grandera, Marienbard, High Chaparral, Golan and Street Cry - all Irish-breds.
In other weekend racing:
Elloluv jumped out to the early lead in Saturday's $200,000 Hollywood Starlet for 2-year-old fillies and went on to post a huge upset, winning by 4 lengths over odds-on favorite (and Breeders' Cup runner-up) Composure. Summer Wind Dancer was third. Elloluv, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Gilded Time, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.88 under Pat Valenzuela. Elloluv went to the post at 30-1 odds but trainer Craig Dollase said he told Valenzuela, "Don't look at the odds." Said Valenzuela, "How surprised was I? Well, I'd never been on her, so I have to say I was a little bit surprised." Composure's trainer, Bob Baffert, said his filly "was too far back...It's disappointing because she's a very good filly." Heavy wagering on Composure resulted in a minus show pool of $130,960.86.
Piensa Sonando closed resolutely through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap by a head over Fleetstreet Dancer. Nose the Trade was third. Piensa Sonando, a 4-year-old Chilean-bred from the barn of Ron McAnally, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.43. Winning jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. said Piensa Sonando has "some bad habits" and switched leads at the wrong time in deep stretch. "But he kept trying, which was good, and he still won," Pincay noted. It was the venerable jockey's 9,478th career win and his fourth victory in the Native Diver.
Sunday, Starrer broke last of six in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap for fillies and mares, advanced on the turn and found room on the inside to take the lead in the stretch. Then, the 4-year-old Dynaformer filly hit the gas, winning by 5 lengths over Cee's Elegance. Starrer was a longshot fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington in October. "It's true there were no Azaris or Summer Colonys in here," said winning rider Pat Valenzuela. "But I do think that she is getting back to herself." Trainer John Shirreffs agreed. "We don't want to see any more of Azeri," he said. "We've seen enough of her."
Martha's Music played a sweet tune for her backers in Saturday's $100,000 Anne Arundel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Sultry Song sat behind the pace-setters, Pass The Virtue and Shot Till You Drop. But in the stretch, she passed both those rivals to win by ¾ length. Pass The Virtue was second and Shop Till You Drop held third. "I had plenty of horse and I wasn't too concerned about the two horses in front," said winning rider Stewart Elliott. "When I asked her to run at the turn, she had more than enough." The 9 furlongs went in 1:50.84.
Golden Gate Fields
Julie Krone booted Spensive home first by a head in Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Florida-bred son of Ponche raced behind the leaders, advanced on the turn and finished just fast enough to beat Always Remember. Natural Balance was third. Spensive got the 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.32. Trainer Bob Baffert was not on hand to discuss his plans for the colt but Krone allowed she "wouldn't mind being back up here in a few weeks to try the Golden Gate Derby with him." That 1 1/16-mile event is Jan. 11.
Calder Race Course
Trust N Luck, who has had some hard luck in his 2-year-old career, put it all together in Saturday's $100,000 What A Pleasure Stakes, winning by 11 lengths. Patriotic Flame was second and the favorite, Super Frolic, was third. Trust N Luck, a Florida-bred son of Montbrook, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.07. Sandwiched in among losing his riding, missing the break and other mishaps, Trust N Luck has won the $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. "We'll point him to the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby," said winning trainer Ralph Ziadie. "I probably won't use a prep before then."
With year-long rival Ivanavinalot absent, Dakota Light made light work of Saturday's $100,000 Three Ring Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Colony Light filly sat near the back of the pack, came three-wide through the stretch turn and outran Never Fail in the final furlong to win by ¾ length. The favorite, Bird Town, got home third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:47.54. "I plan to give her a little break now and the goal will be the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay," said winning trainer David Brownlee. "She'll probably have a race someplace before then."
Dat You Miz Blue came from behind a three-way tussle for the lead to win Saturday's $75,000 Garland of Roses Handicap by 2 ¼ lengths over odds-on favorite Xtra Heat. Belle Ariste was third. Dat You Miz Blue, a New York-bred daughter of Cure the Blues, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.10. Said winning rider John Velzaquez, "When I made the move, I wanted her to blow by. I didn't want her to inch up to Xtra Heat, because when you do that, she (Xtra Heat) just pulls away on you." Xtra Heat's trainer, John Salzman, said his filly doesn't run as well on a wet track as on dry footing. The Big A surface was officially muddy for the Garland of Roses.
Grey Comet caught favorite Unswept at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for state-bred, 2-year-olds and went on to win by 3 ¾ lengths. Unswept held second and Go Rockin' Robin was third. Grey Comet, a son of Distinctive Pro, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.25. Both of the top two finishers are trained by Gary Contessa. "These are two very nice New York-breds," he said.
Walk In The Snow walked off with the biggest prize on Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day card - first place in the $150,000 Champions Day Classic. The 3-year-old In A Walk gelding, who was second in last year's Champions Day Juvenile, put away Oak Hall as the field turned for home and then beat Prince Slew to the line, finishing the 9 furlongs in 1:51.53.
Prized Amberpro took the Champions Day Ladies, improving on her fifth-place finish in the same event last year. One Brick Shy got home first in the Champions Day Turf and then survived two claims of foul relating to bumping near the wire.
Zarb's Luck, third in last year's Champions Day Sprint, won this year's renewal. And Calvin Borel rode the winners of both 2-year-old races - Kool K.J. in the Lassie and Meteor Impact in the Juvenile.
Hawthorne Race Course
Julie's Prize swung wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Illinois Breeders' Debutante, then opened up and won by 4 lengths over Invader. Cashmere Miss was third and the favorite, She's Fantastic, faded to get home an unfantastic fifth. Julie's Prize, a daughter of El Prado, ran the 1 1/16 mile under Larry Sterling Jr. in 1:49.66.
Fuse It raced within striking distance of the leaders until the stretch drive in Saturday's $50,000 Gardenia Stakes, got room on the outside and drew off to win by 3 lengths over Mike's Sister. Mamaleen was third. Fuse It, a 4-year-old daughter of Lite the Fuse, ran 5 furlongs in 58.23 seconds.
Camacho led almost all the way to a mild upset victory in Saturday's $50,000 Paradise Mile Handicap. The New Zealand-bred 5-year-old, trained by Patrick Gallagher, finished in 1:36.57. The second horse under the wire, R. Baggio, was disqualified for bumping and set down to third behind Milk Wood.
Sam Houston Race Park
Agrivating General battled down the stretch with Doc D before winning by a head in Saturday's $30,000 Magnolia Stakes for 3-year-olds. Faxamillion was far back in third. Agrivating General, a TX-bred son of Vermont, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.56.