Hongkong Great strikes gold
First Singapore Gold Cup for trainer Le Grange and Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Zahra
Hongkong Great overcame the widest gate and the top impost to score a dominant win in the $1 million Group 1 Singapore Gold Cup (2,000m) on Saturday.
The stellar victory handed sixth-season trainer Ricardo Le Grange his first success in the time-honoured classic as a trainer in his own right.
The South African horseman was assistant trainer when his mentor Patrick Shaw claimed the handicap feature three times with Mr Line (2006), Quechua (2014) and Cooptado (2015).
Slightly overlooked after his fading fourth place in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1,800m) at his last start, Hongkong Great reversed that form under a tactically brilliant ride by recent Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Mark Zahra.
In the QEII Cup, the Chilean-bred seven-year-old by Lookin At Lucky burned the candle at both ends when he came from another wide barrier to wrest the lead from stablemate Senor Don down the backstraight.
This time, he dropped anchor outside favourite Mr Black Back (Craig Williams) once he came across the face of the field from barrier No. 16.
At first glance, the Hong Kong-owned galloper seemed to be coasting but the 6kg weight swing (57kg versus 51kg) still made for a daunting task.
Connections need not have worried. Zahra had the perfect blueprint for such scenarios – Gold Trip also carried both the same saddlecloth No. 1 and topweight in the “race that stops a nation” on Nov 1.
When the Australian hoop cut the ribbons upon straightening, Hongkong Great surged ahead, surprisingly putting Mr Black Back in the red more easily than thought.
Hongkong Great went into overdrive to romp in by 2½ lengths from Super Impact (Michael Dee), who plugged away from midfield to deny Cyclone (Ronnie Stewart) second place by a neck.
The $41 payout was indicative of the waning interest in Hongkong Great after his QEII Cup run, but Le Grange never left his corner.
“Things didn’t go his way in the QEII Cup. I never lost faith in the horse, I knew he could bounce back,” he said.
“Everything had gone to plan since. I was so confident after his Saturday grass gallop, it was a winning gallop.
“My confidence level went up but then, when the draws came out, I was deflated. Luckily, I had a Melbourne Cup-winning jockey to ride him.
“From that draw, what could I tell Mark? I just left it to him but he did ask me what type of horse he was, and I told him he goes to the front.
“I told him he could let him roll, but I left it to him if anything else is quicker. When he came across early and parked outside Mr Black Back – happy days, it was a peach of a ride from Mark.”
Nothing can come close to a Melbourne Cup for any Australian jockey but, to Zahra, who rode in Singapore in 2004 and 2005, the Singapore Gold Cup trophy he was packing in his suitcase will be up there as one of his proudest memories.
“This win means a lot to me. When I was here last time, I got beat by Mark du Plessis by a head (2004),” he said.
“I was on Mayo’s Music and he won on Raul for Laurie Laxon. So, I wanted to go one better and I’m so rapt I did.”
It may have taken 18 years to complete the unfinished business but, in 2min 0.86sec, the Perth native fulfilled his wish with a copybook ride.
“We were drawn wide but he got away quite quickly. Craig made his intentions clear that he wanted to lead, so I was happy to just sit outside him,” he said.
“When I saw Craig asking his horse at the 600m, and he did not respond and my horse was still travelling, I was very confident.
“But I was still worried about the trip, as he’s won only up to 1,600m here. So I held on for as long as I could. In the end, he gave a very good kick.”
Le Grange was overjoyed at the winner’s enclosure but did not forget to pay tribute to the people who have made his dream come true – past and present.
“I’m super proud I won the Gold Cup. I have to thank the Yue family for giving me this horse, (assistant trainer) Jacci (de Tert), Pat Shaw, my mentor, the farriers, the vets, the track riders, the syces, Vlad Duric who rides this horse in trackwork,” he said.
“I’d also like to dedicate the win to one of my owners Mr Yong Mee Him (of Chelsea Stable) who passed away two weeks ago. He was one of my greatest supporters.
“It’s pretty amazing. This is what this is all about, waking up in the morning to come to the track.
“This is the dream and I’m living the dream today.”