Japan sweeps Hong Kong races

Dec. 16, 2001 at 12:55 PM
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HONG KONG, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- 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.

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