Hong Kong Diary

The scene is familiar towards the end of any major race day around the world. Some key players are jubilant as darkness falls, others head home ruminating on what went wrong. Sha Tin on Sunday was no exception as dusk fell and the 2019 HKIR will go down as an epic day for some and a forgettable one for others.

  • Tuesday 10 December
  • Blog
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Joao and Japan the big winners at HKIR 2019

JOAO MOREIRA was the biggest individual winner. This was the first anniversary of his return to HK after a spell in Japan and he marked it in style, powering clear on Glory Vase in the Vase prior to delivering Beat The Clock with a perfectly timed run in the Sprint. The Magic Man wasn't his effervescent self during much of last season but a five timer on Sunday leaves him twelve clear of arch rival Zac Purton at the top of the jockeys' table. The spring in his step is well and truly back. And that spells trouble for Purton and the rest of the HK jockey colony.

JOHN SIZE isn't given to excess emotion but a variation on one word stood out as he reflected on Beat The Clock's dramatic Sprint success. "Humbling" was the word he used to describe the sight of his stable star giving every ounce but his pride surely extended well beyond the winner. Size also trained runner-up Hot King Prawn, who produced a career best after serious colic problems, along with gallant Mile runner-up Waikuku. Size hasn't been as prolific on HKIR day as you would expect for one who has won eleven titles, with eight seconds to go with his three winners. But the mark of a top trainer is to get horses to peak on the big day. And this was a day when he did just that.

ZAC PURTON emerged from the weighing room looking like a man who had been panning for gold only to come up with bronze. HK's champion needed one more success to beat Gerald Mosse's record of eight HKIR wins but Exultant, Aethero and Beauty Generation all finished third. Purton understands fine margins better than anyone and his fears that stall 14 would hinder Exultant's Vase prospects were borne out. There will be plenty more big days in exciting young sprinter Aethero but Beauty Generation is no longer the world's top miler and, like many HK stars before him, it seems seven is the age when Father Time starts to tug at his tail.

JOHN MOORE has been one of Size's biggest rivals for the better part of twenty years but his final HKIR with a Hong Kong training license didn't go to plan as Aethero and Beauty G both came up short. Aethero was found to have a fever on Monday and remains by far the most exciting young horse in the HK scene but the short and long term questions surrounding him are intriguing. Will he be given a break or jump back in against the hardened Size stars again next month? Will he be tested over further given the room at the top over 1400m and a mile. Most importantly, who will be training him when Moore has to retire due to reaching 70 next summer?

JAPAN's long-term plan to breed and race G1 horses all over the world has worked out better than anyone could have imagined in 2019. Almond Eye started the ball rolling in Dubai in March; Win Bright gave it added momentum in HK in April, while Deirdre's famous Nassau success at Goodwood was followed by Mer de Glace and Lys Gracieux outpointing the best middle distance horses in Australia. The Land of the Rising Sun dominated again at Sha Tin on Sunday. Glory Vase barged his way into the world's elite with a runaway Vase win, while Admire Mars swooped under Soumillon in the Mile and Win Bright was at it again in the Cup. The Arc remains the Holy Grail and, if this season is any guide, it's more a matter of when rather than if the Japanese flag flies high over Longchamp.

Win Bright
Win Bright just holds the luckless Magic Wand in a dramatic HK Cup

Unplaced efforts from Zaaki, Aspetar, Young Rascal and Prince Of Arran confirmed there is little value in Britain sending the B team, while Aidan O'Brien's mixed record at Sha Tin continued with a lifeless effort from Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck and a luckless Cup second for Magic Wand. Indeed, the Cup was the ultimate "would've, could've, should've" contest. Almond Eye would have surely won by daylight had she not spiked a temperature the previous week. Glory Vase and Exultant could have won it had their connections not opted for the Vase. And Magic Wand would have won it had she not been short of room more than once under Ryan Moore in the straight. All in all, a frustrating end to the year for Ballydoyle. But HKIR 2019 looked under serious threat for several months. And the fact that it went ahead - with record turnover boosted by major international interest - was a significant success for HK racing overall.

Hong Kong Diary
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