The local contingent appeared slightly depleted for Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse and the foreign invaders were imposing.
But, when the day was done, Hong Kong runners won three of the four Group 1 races, losing only to Japan's dominating sprinter, Lord Kanaloa, who was unbeatable on the day.
Dominant got the home team off to a surprising victory in the 2,400-meters Longines Hong Kong Vase -- a race in which local runners seldom have found success. Under leading Hong Kong rider Zac Purton, Dominant raced at the back of the field until the final turn. When Purton gave him the go-ahead, Dominant quickly picked it up, briefly trapping the favorite, The Fugue, and surged between horses to the lead. By the time jockey William Buick got The Fugue back into stride, it was too late and Dominant went on to win by 3/4 length over the hard-luck filly, who represented Ireland. The 2011 winner of the Vase, Dunaden, finished third and last year's winner, Red Cadeaux, got home fourth. The race went in 2:27.29 -- a good clip. "It was one I didn't expect but we'll take all of them," said Purton, Hong Kong's leading jockey. Winning trainer John Moore added, "It's a big surprise, I can tell you." Hong Kong runners had taken only one of the previous 19 runnings of the Vase. The Fugue's rider, William Buick, said, "A horse just stopped and took me with him. The winner got first run on me and I had lost momentum."
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint was a tour de force for Japanese star Lord Kanaloa, who easily drew off in the stretch run to win the event for the second straight year, confirming his position among the world's top sprinters. Ireland's Sole Power was second, 5 lengths back of the Japanese superstar, with a pair of Hong Kong runners -- Frederick Engels and Cerise Cherry, finishing third and fourth. Lord Kanaloa, a 5-year-old son of King Kamehameha, heads to his second career in the breeding shed with two wins in the Hong Kong race and two in the premier Japanese sprint, the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes. He closes out his career with 13 wins from 19 starts. "This was the best performance of his career," said winning rider Yasunari Iwata. "Once the gates opened, he was just brilliant."
Glorious Days, after a six-months layoff and from a far outside gate, came running from behind a fast pace to win the Longines Hong Kong Mile by 3/4 length. Gold-Fun and Packing Whiz finished second and third in a sweep for the locals. The race had been billed as a showdown between the French-bred mare Moonlight Cloud and 3-year-old British filly Sky Lantern but neither showed up in the running. Moonlight Cloud finished sixth and Sky Lantern got home last of 14. Glorious Days, who last raced in June in Japan, finished in a quick 1:33.60 with Douglas Whyte up for trainer John Size. "A great training job by John Size," Whyte said, noting the long layoff without a prep race. Glorious Days in previous seasons had done battle with former Hong Kong champion Ambitious Dragon. "We've been a bridesmaid quite a few times," Whyte said.
The day's final race, the 2,000-meters Longines Hong Kong Cup, appeared to be wide open, with runners from France, England, Germany, Japan and even the United States having a shot at the day's biggest purse. But it was Hong Kong's Akeed Mofeed who fought his way through a traffic problem in the stretch and got home first, beating Japanese pacesetter Tokei Halo by 1 length. France's Cirrus Des Aigles, the world's top-rated horse at the start of the year, was another neck back in third with Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, Military Attack, in fourth. Jockey Douglas Whyte had an anxious moment before booting home the winner. As he was about to go inside Tokei Halo at mid-stretch, that one shifted back to the rail while Cirrus Des Aigles ranged up alongside Akeed Mofeed, leaving Whyte nowhere to go. "I had just enough horse to go back 1/2 length and go around," he said.