Trainer Mike de Kock is eyeing the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) after his South African champion Variety Club dominated rivals in the Champions Mile (HK-I) May 4 at Sha Tin.
Fresh off a victory in the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) March 29 at Meydan, the son of Var did not miss a beat following a long journey from Dubai to Hong Kong. He took the Champions Mile by four lengths in a brilliant performance, becoming the first foreign-based winner to capture the event.
After sitting in second behind pacesetter Helene Spirit, Variety Club responded on cue from Anton Marcus and dispatched that runner at the top of the stretch. He accelerated clear and won comfortably from local favorite Able Friend, who settled near the back of the field early under Joao Moreira and was unable to catch the winner.
De Kock was delighted with Variety Club's victory, accomplished in 1:34.11 on turf rated as good.
"It's huge for us, it's huge for South Africa, it's fantastic for South African breeding," he said after the race.
De Kock saddled Musir to a third-place finish in 2011.
"This horse is a far better miler than Musir was," he said. "We were quietly confident."
Variety Club races for Markus and Ingrid Jooste and will return to De Kock's Newmarket yard for a rest, racing manger Derek Brugman said.
"Ultimately, we will probably be thinking about the Prix de la Foret (Fr-I, Oct. 5) at Longchamp and then probably the Breeders' Cup Mile," he said. "I'm not sure if he will have a race in England; we'll see how he pulls up but we want to give him a break. The Prix de la Foret is a qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup, so it makes sense to go there."
The Breeders' Cup Mile, which carries a $2 million purse, will be run on the turf Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park
Able Friend's stablemate and 2013 Champions Mile victor Dan Excel was third this year, another 1 1/4 lengths back, while Glorious Days and Gold-Fun, the respective 2013 Longines Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) winner and runner-up first in December, finished fourth and fifth in the 14-horse field.
Irish-based Gordon Lord Byron
, in his second start in the race after finishing fourth in 2012, was seventh after being repeatedly bumped by Able Friend, who was shifting in before the final quarter mile. Moreira was severely reprimanded and advised that his riding of Able Friend during that part of the race bordered on breaching a significant rule of racing.
Anton gave all the credit for the Champions Mile win to Variety Club, South Africa's Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013 who improved his record to 17 wins from 23 career starts. He earned a fifth group I triumph, including the 2013 L'Ormarins Queen's Plate (SAf-I) at Kenilworth in South Africa.
"He's just an absolute professional and I'm merely a pilot," said Marcus of the 5-year-old horse out of La Massine, by Secret Prospector.
"If you look at the field, the horses that he took on and the ratings, it probably was his litmus test and he's come through it with flying colors," Marcus added. "You saw today what he was all about; he's taken on horses with home town advantage."
Variety Club was bred in South Africa by Beaumont Stud.