Sacred Kingdom upheld local dominance Dec. 13 in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) at Sha Tin by regaining the title he won so impressively two years ago.
The race, widely reckoned to be the best international sprint line-up given the presence of so many champions from all over the world, ultimately boiled down a local shootout.
The first four past the post this year were trained in Hong Kong and it was the eighth straight season for the winner to be based at Sha Tin.
Ridden by Brett Prebble, Sacred Kingdom took up the running shortly after entering the home straight and had enough in reserve to repel the advances of One World by a half-length.
Joy and Fun ran third, with Green Birdie fourth. Last month’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner California Flag was fifth under Joe Talamo. The other American-based entrant, Cannonball, settled for 10th in a field of 11 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
The Australian contingent disappointed with Apache Cat and All Silent finishing mid-pack, while Scenic Blast's bid for a US$1 million bonus for taking out three legs of the Global Sprint Challenge in three countries ended in anticlimax when he bled.
For trainer Ricky Yiu it was the third time he won the Sprint after Fairy King Prawn in 1999 and Sacred Kingdom two years ago.
Prebble, meanwhile, savoring success after victory in the same race in 2006 aboard Absolute Champion, said: “I had a lovely run in midfield but I didn't want to get there too quickly. When I was coming off their backs at the top of the straight, I had to count to 10 before pressing the button because he's getting smarter as he gets older; he nearly pulled up on me there in the end. To be honest, I expected he would perform like that but it's great when it all works out."
A beaming Ricky Yiu added: "I felt the same before the race as I did before he won in Singapore earlier in the year. He was in good condition, training well and we just needed the luck in running and Brett did a brilliant job. To win this race for the third time is a real thrill, too."
Earlier in the day, the French drew first blood in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races when the filly Daryakana produced a big finishing burst to win the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (HK-I) by a head from runner-up Spanish Moon.
The filly, owned by His Highness the Aga Khan, provided trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre with his second Hong Kong International success following his win in the 2006 HK Cup with the mare Pride.
"It seems like I can only win with the fillies. For a 3-year-old she traveled very well and when I saw her early in the week, I thought she was perfect,” de Royer-Dupre said. “When she won her group II at Longchamp I started to think of this race here. She will stay in training as a 4-year-old."
Winning jockey Gerald Mosse, who picked up the ride after Christophe Lemaire's Japan Cup suspension, now boasts six winners at this meeting and he timed his run to perfection after Daryakana was last approaching the home turn. Mosse's tally of wins is only matched by Olivier Peslier.
"I had a lot of horse under me and the pace was OK so I was happy to sit at the back. I knew she had a great turn of foot and I was always happy in the straight that I would get there. I feel a bit sad for my friend (Lemaire) but that happens in racing. This filly has a heart bigger than herself. She's among the best I've ridden,' Mosse said.
Daryakana, the least experienced runner in the race, remains unbeaten in five starts and continued the dominance of European trained horses in the race.
Spanish Moon was brave in running second after Ryan Moore was niggling at him as far as 800 meters from home."We just got mugged on the line,' Moore said.
Francois Doumen, of Jim And Tonic fame in Hong Kong, was delighted with the performance of Kasbah Bliss who rallied late to finish third after being under pressure a long way from home.
"He was brave,' said Doumen of the horse who has combined flat and jumps racing successfully. “He was held up on the last bend which is a bit of a shame because otherwise he could have accelerated earlier and that might have made the difference.”