Former Irish classic starter Dan Excel narrowly edged pacesetter Helene Spirit after a spirited battle to the finish line in the HK$12 million Champions Mile (HK-I) May 5 at Sha Tin.
Getting an ideal stalking trip under Weichong Marwing, Dan Excel was switched off the fence after the 400-meter mark to challenge. He engaged Helene Spirit in midstretch and the pair matched strides, with the 5-year-old Irish-bred Shamardal gelding surging in the final strides to win by a short head.
Dan Excel was timed in 1:33.42 and added a breakthrough group I win to his record after three runner-up finishes from four previous starts this season.
The victory provided trainer John Moore with a fourth consecutive win and fifth overall in the Champions Mile, following victories with Able One (2007 and 2010) and Xtension (2011 and 2012). Xtension finished sixth in his pursuit of a record third straight win.
"Drawing gate 1 won the race for us," Moore said of Dan Excel's starting position. "He kicked really well and we know he's a fighter—he doesn't give up. He's delivered on the day."
Moore enjoyed international group I wins at Sha Tin for the second straight weekend after a victory by Military Attack in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-I) April 28. He hopes Dan Excel can join Military Attack in the Singapore Airlines International Cup (Sin-I) in two weeks.
"I understand he's on the reserve list (for Singapore) and I think that they're going to give us a lot of consideration now after seeing that courageous effort," Moore said. "The owner's very keen and I'm keen so we'll make the trip if invited."
Owner David Boehm was thrilled with Dan Excel, who twice won at the group III level in his native country under the name Dunboyne Express for trainer Kevin Prendergast, including an eight-length romp in the Jebel Ali Stables & Racecourse Anglesey Stakes as a 2-year-old. His only previous Hong Kong win came in a handicap on the final day of last season.
"It's always any horse owner's dream to win a group I race, particularly in such a gutsy style," Boehm said. "It's only the second time that I've won a group I; John and I have raced horses together for 25 years so it means the world."
Dan Excel took his overall record to five wins, six seconds, and two thirds from 25 career starts. His resume includes fifth-place finishes in the 2011 Irish Derby (Ire-I) and Abu Dhabi Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) for previous owner John Connaughton, who bred him. Dan Excel is out of the Polish Precedent mare Love Excelling, a half sister to 2000 Vodafone Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) winner Love Divine, the dam of Irish classic winner Sixties Icon.
Packing Whiz was unable to use his patented late kick to full effect and finished 1 1/4 lengths back in third in the Champions Mile.
New Zealand Horse of the Year King Mufhasa raced prominently early but faded on the turn and finished ninth. He was found afterwards to have blood in the trachea and was also lame in his left foreleg.
Dan Excel becomes Shamardal's 10th group I winner and third of 2013 after Maybe Discreet's Australasian Oaks victory April 27 and Noble Alpha's score in the April 21 Macau Hong Kong Trophy. He is one of 18 stakes performers this year for the 11-year-old son of Giant's Causeway , who stands at Darley's Kildangan Stud in Ireland.