One of the great race mares of recent years retired in style Sunday at the Hong Kong International Races but another bowed out without even getting a chance to run.
Pride, the pride of the French racing world, held on for a desperately narrow victory in the day's marquee event, the Hong Kong Cup -- avenging a tough loss in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as she heads off to the breeding shed.
But Ouija Board, an intercontinental winner for her owner, Lord Derby, was declared from the Hong Kong Vase with soreness in her left front leg, forfeiting her chance to go out a winner.
Collier Hill, an 8-year-old British reclamation project, went on to win the
Vase, beating two horses owned by the Aga Khan. The home team won the other two Group 1 events impressively -- Absolute Champion winning the Sprint in record time and The Duke copping the Mile after finishing third two years ago and second last year.
The card at Sha Tin is sponsored by Cathay Pacific Airline, which shortly before the races announced it has extended the agreement through 2010.
Jockey Christophe Lemaire brought Pride to the lead with a wide move out of the stretch turn -- a tactic he admitted later he feared might have been a mistake. Indeed, in the final yards, it appeared Pride might be overtaken by a late-running Admire Moon. But she found enough to get home in front by a short head. Vengeance of Rain, who won the race last year, finished third.
"She has a great turn of foot," Lemaire said. "But her run is quite short. So she was stopping a bit for me at the end and I was frightened we might get caught. It was her last race and, with a filly like this, you don't want to do anything wrong."
Pride's owner, Sven Hanson, said he has not yet selected a stallion for Pride -- a 6-year-old daughter of Peintre Celebre. But he said he is not tempted to keep her in training for a run in Dubai in the spring. "Enough is enough," he said. "I don't want to take any more risks."
Ouija Board, who won her second Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last month at Churchill Downs, finished third in her final start, the Japan Cup. Alexander Goldrun, another internationally successful race mare, also will be retired after finishing ninth in the Hong Kong Cup, never a factor.
In the Vase, Collier Hill had a similar scare to Pride's in the Cup. After taking the lead 300 meters out, jockey Dean McKeown had all he could do to hold off the late charge of Kastoria, winning by just a nose. Shamdala finished third. Both Kastoria and Shamdala race for the Aga Khan.
"I knew I had it won turning for home," said McKeown with a laugh. He had been predicting victory in Hong Kong since Collier Hill -- a one-time jumper who sold for 5,500 British pounds at the nadir of his career -- won the Canadian International at Woodbine in his last outing.
Despite his age, said trainer Alan Swinbank, "we might come back here next year. ... In the meantime, he will go back to Dubai for the Sheema Classic."
John Oxx, who trains Kastoria, said she is to be bred next year but also might take a swing at the Sheema Classic. Noting she might have won the Vase if it had been a jump longer, Oxx smiled and said, "What can you do?"
The Mile produced yet another heart-stopping finish as The Duke, an apparent easy winner, had to hang on fiercely in the final yards to stave off a furious finish by the favorite, Armada. At the end, the margin was a head, with Ramonti holding third after setting the pace.
"I grabbed the advantage at the head of the straight," said winning rider Olivier Doleuze. "That's what won it for me." He said he could feel the late competition coming. "But I'm happy that today was our day and that he held on."
The Duke's two close calls in the 2004 and 2005 editions of the Mile were echoed by his second-place finish -- to Armada -- in this year's Mile Trial.
By far the most convincing victory of the day was Absolute Champion's in the Sprint, as the local hero won by 4 1/4 lengths, lowering his own track record for the 1,200 meters by 0.3 second -- to 1:07.8. Silent Witness, a two-time winner of the Sprint, was the best of the rest and British invader Benbaun provided a longshot third that boosted the return on a HK$10 tierce ticket to more than HK$14,000.
"It would have been pretty hard," said winning trainer David Hall, "to say that he could have improved over his last run, when he broke the track record. But he did it."
The early favorite in the Sprint, Takeover Target, was withdrawn from the race by the stewards after blood samples showed the presence of a banned substance. The forced scratch cost the horse a chance at a $1 million bonus in the Asian Sprint Challenge had he won the race.
Hong Kong Jockey Club Executive Director of Racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said attendance was up 27 percent over 2005 and the handle increased 9.6 percent.
"Even without Takeover Target and Ouija Board, we have had a terrific day -- lots of exciting finishes and the fact that The Duke came from our sale gives me particular satisfaction," Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
In other weekend racing:
Boboman rallied to the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup and went on to post a 1-length victory over longshot Runaway Dancer. Artiste Royale and Meteor Storm dead-heated for third and fourth while the favorite, T.H. Approval never was in the mix and finished next-to-last of eight starters. Boboman, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Kingmambo, got the 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:24.61 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Richard Mandella. It was the horse's first stakes try after two allowance victories for Mandella. Gomez said he had to "ride him all the way" to get Boboman in position. Once he got to the front, Gomez said, "His whole attitude changed."
Magna Graduate continued trainer Todd Pletcher's hot hand with an easy victory in Saturday's $100,000 Queens County Handicap. Out to a quick lead under John Velazquez, the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Honor Grades won off by 6 1/2 lengths, with Papi Chullo best of the rest and Smart Growth third. Magna Graduate ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast inner track in 1:55.19. Magna Graduate ran fourth in the Dubai World Cup in March (placed third), but then was sidelined with an ankle injury until Breeders' Cup Day, when he ran 10th in the Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs. "We'll take him down to Florida and see what's next," Pletcher said.
Royal Kleven came from last of just four starters to win Saturday's $100,000 California Distaff Turf Handicap by 3/4 length over Loyal Bounty. Bai and Bai finished third. Royal Kleven, a 6-year-old, California-bred mare by Kleven, found the winning move on the outside at mid-stretch for jockey Chad Schvaneveldt. She finished the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:39.99.
Calder Race Course
Rutherienne sat at the back of an eight-horse field in Saturday's $100,000 Cherokee Frolic Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, came around the field on the turn and was up in time to win by 3/4 length over Perfect Motion. Island Friend was third. Rutherienne, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Pulpit, is owned by Virginia Kraft Payson and trained by Christophe Clement. Rene Douglas guided her over 1 1/16 mile of "good" turf in 1:42.67. She now is undefeated in two starts. "She's turned out to be a very pleasant surprise," Clement said. "We'll see how she comes back and then decide whether to come back in the Tropical Park Oaks (on New Year's Day) or put her away and wait for Keeneland." He said he wouldn't mind trying Rutherienne on Keeneland's Polytrack surface.
Also Saturday, Fernando Po upset odds-on favorite Soldier's Dancer by a head in the $100,000 Kris S. Stakes for 2-year-olds. Moving from a pace-stalking position, Fernando Po got through on the inside to get the lead in the stretch. Soldier's Dancer, after racing farther back, came up a head short at the wire. Fernando Po, a Kentucky-bred son of Johannesburg, ran the 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:41.60 for Rafael Bejarano. Winning owner Barry Schwartz said trainer Mike Hushion "has been high on him from the beginning." He said the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby is a possibility.
More Than Regal was more than good enough as the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Zia Park Derby. Coming from off the pace, the Kentucky-bred son of More Than Ready got the advantage at mid-stretch and extended his lead to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Guiding Hand was second and Wait in Line third. More Than Regal finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:47 1/5 under Roman Chapa.
Hawthorne Race Course
Copper State came from off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes for Illinois-bred 2-year-old fillies. At the line, the daughter of Jump Start was 1/2 length better than pace-setter Rich N Clever, with Jermidy another 2 lengths back in third. The favorite, Magnetic Miss, faded to finish in a dead heat for fourth. Copper State, with Carlos Silva up, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in1:45.55. "She is bred to go long," Silva said, adding that trainer Richard Hazelton "thought going two turns she would be an even better filly. Today she proved that."
Costa Rising stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic, got the lead after a half mile and held on to win by a head over Mean Butterbean. Blueyed Lass came from well back to take the $100,000 Ladies Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Cutie Sabrina. Desert Wheat also came from far off the pace to win the $100,000 Turf by 2 3/4 lengths over Chip Hunter. And Carl's Frosty Girl rallied from the back to upset the $100,000 Ladies Sprint, winning by 1/2 length over Ida Maria.
Meteor Impact stayed close and closed well to win the $100,000 Sprint Stakes by 1 length over Brother Bean.Tortuga Straits got the better of Power Surge in the $100,000 Juvenile, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. And Huckie came from near the back of the pack to win the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies by 5 1/4 lengths over Joangel.
Easy Red put a head in front at the wire to upset favorite Tartlet in Saturday's $75,000 Jennings Handicap for Maryland-breds. Due was third. Easy Red, a 4-year-old Charismatic gelding, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:54.90 for jockey Steve Hamilton.
Tampa Bay Downs
Dream of Angels led virtually all the way to a convincing, 14 1/4-length victory in Saturday's $60,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds. Back there in his dust, Captain Cameron was second and El Bandido Rojo was third. Dream of Angels, a Florida-bred colt by Trippi, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.89. Trainer Steve Sandridge said he is considering the Sunshine Millions for his colt.
Half Heaven stayed right behind the pace in Saturday's $50,000 My Charmer Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the lead with a furlong to run and held on to win by 1/2 length over My Chickadee. Moon Berry finished third. Half Heaven, a 4-year-old, New York-bred filly by Regal Classic, ran 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:42.95 with Miguel Mena in the irons.