Japanese flag flies in HK
Asia's racing powerhouse snares three of the four Group 1 Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin
Japan, one of Asia's racing powerhouses, was all-conquering in Hong Kong yesterday, capturing three of the four Group 1 Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin.
Horses from the Land of the Rising Sun won the HK$20 million (S$3.47 million) Hong Kong Vase over 2,400m with Glory Vase, the HK$25 million Hong Kong Mile over 1,600m with Admire Mars and the HK$28 million showpiece Hong Kong Cup over 2,000m with Win Bright.
The host nation, which created history last year by sweeping all the four feature races, gained a consolation victory by taking the HK$20 million Hong Kong Sprint over 1,200m with Beat The Clock.
This year saw participation from fewer countries. Besides Japan, only horses from England, France and Ireland contested. Australia's lone runner, In Her Time in the Sprint, was scratched.
Singapore had no runner.
Japan had the largest contingent with nine horses and was represented in all four races.
Former four-time Singapore and three-time Hong Kong champion jockey Joao Moreira sent the usually large on-course Japanese fans into a frenzy by sweeping home on Glory Vase in the last 200m in the Vase.
Defending Vase hero Exultant of Hong Kong was sent to the lead in the endurance race. Reigning Hong Kong champion jockey Zac Purton had no choice but to press forward as he was drawn widest in the field of 14.
Glory Vase tracked around midfield but, once they straigghtened up, the man they call Magic Moreira waved his magic wand and his mount charged home to win by 3½ lengths.
Lucky Lilac got up to beat Exultant for second to give Japan a quinella. Japan's other runner, Deirdre, filled the fourth spot.
It was vintage Moreira again in the Sprint. He guided the John Size-trained Beat The Clock to beat stablemate Hot King Prawn by a neck. Third was the raging favourite and front-runner Aethero, a short head away.
There was only one foreign runner in the race, Japan's Danon Smash, who finished eighth of 12 runners.
At the post-race interview, Moreira said he could not be happier with the early International Group 1 double.
"What a pleasure to be on top of two very nice horses, in particular this guy, who I have so much to do with," said the Brazilian, who was aboard Beat The Clock in all his eight wins, including the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint and The Centennary Sprint Cup, both also over 1,200m.
"He's so consistent, he tries his best always and to be his rider is just unforgettable."
Moreira missed a grand hat-trick when he finished second on Hong Kong's Waikuku in the Mile, beaten by half a length by Admire Mars.
Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation ran third in his bid for a third consecutive Mile success.
Admire Mars' jockey, Christophe Soumillon, said his stint in Japan during the winters paid off. He then praised the Japanese horses.
"All the Japanese horses, they are very well bred, very strong and well trained. We could see the performance today."
Win Bright, ridden by Masami Matsuoka, wrapped up the big day for Japan. He followed up his Group 1 QE II Cup win in Hong Kong in April with a last-bounce victory over Ireland's Magic Wand in the Cup.