By Bob Kieckhefer
It was a good day for the home team in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races Dec. 11 as locally based horses won three of the four features.
Only in the $1.8 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (HK-I), run at 2,400 meters, did the foreign invaders break through. And in that event, a stop in last month's Melbourne Cup (Aus-I), seemed like the ticket to success.
See the AmWest Entertainment Hong Kong Racing section for more stories and video features leading up to the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races.
Dunaden, who won the Melbourne fixture by a whisker over Red Cadeaux, backed up that effort with a convincing stretch-running victory in the Vase. After settling in mid-pack under jockey Craig Williams, Dunaden picked up the pace alertly when the field turned into the stretch on the Sha Tin turf and he swept by the leaders to win by three-quarters of a length.
Local favorite Thumbs Up was second. Red Cadeaux, who came up on the short end of the Melbourne Cup photo, dead-heated with Silver Pond for third. Campanologist, Godolphin's lone starter on the day, appeared to have every chance in the late going but the door shut as he was making a late move and he finished fifth.
The race went in 2:27.50 and, according to Williams, was run according to plan.
"When we got the No. 3 draw, it made our job easier," he said. "We planned to stay close in a race that figured to be slowly run."
Dunaden, a 5-year-old French-bred son of Nicobar, answered the call perfectly and accelerated on cue to fulfill the last part of the plan.
The winner started his season in France in group II and group III events. Trainer Mikel Delzangles shipped him to Australia well in advance of the Melbourne Cup and was rewarded with a win in the Geelong Cup (Aus-III) as a prep for Australia's set piece event.
Williams missed the Melbourne Cup because of a suspension.
Asked about his plans for Dunaden, Delzangles said, "For the long term, nothing's decided yet. The short term? A holiday."
The $1.8 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) was for eight straight years the private preserve of local runners, until last year when South Africa's J J the Jet Plane broke through to victory. This year, the home team reasserted itself.
Led by Lucky Nine, the top four finishers were based in Hong Kong. Entrapment dead-heated with Joy and Fun for second. Little Bridge took fourth.
That outcome was aided significantly by the luck of the draw. Rocket Man, a Singapore runner who finished a close second last year, drew post position 13. Bated Breath, one of four starters on the day for Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, got stall No. 12. Both were hustled toward the early lead but neither could withstand the added pressure and they got home 12th and eighth, respectively.
Lucky Nine, meanwhile, watched the quick pace, accelerated down the stretch outside horses and was up to win by a head. The 4-year-old Dubawi gelding ran the 1,200 meters in 1:08.98 with Brett Prebble up.
Prebble acknowledged the bad draw for the foreigners was a deciding factor. "Speed was always going to be on because of the awkward draw," he said. "I had to cover a little more ground than I'd have preferred. But he's all heart. This horse never shirks a task."
Lucky Nine returned from a recent trip to Japan, including a fifth-place finish in the Sprinters Stakes (Jpn-I) at Nakayama, with some aches and pains but had recovered well at home, winning trainer Caspar Fownes said.
Fownes, who also conditions Thumbs Up, said he will seek international opportunities for both his runners. "We'll look at some races, maybe in Dubai," he said.
The $2.6 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) provided the day's biggest surprise—even for the winning owner, trainer and rider.
Able One, who was scratched at the gate as the favorite in last year's running, bounced back from an otherwise dismal season to win with a well-timed and gutsy effort at incredible odds of 61-1.
When Flying Blue went out to a big and quick lead, jockey Jeff Lloyd kept Able One well back in second, biding his time. As Flying Blue gave it up on the turn, Lloyd sent his mount to the front and he had just enough at the end to hold off Cityscape, another unlucky Juddmonte runner, for the win. Xtension finished third.
Able One, a 9-year-old, New Zealand-bred Cape Cross gelding, finished in 1:33.98.
Winning trainer John Moore said the victory "was a very big surprise. He was supposed to be a pacemaker. When you see a 9-year-old doing that, there's always hope." And Lloyd added he knew from the way the race was setting up that his horse would place. But, he said, "it was a great surprise to win. I was saying, 'Don't think you're on Able One.'"
Even the owner, Dr. Cornel Li Fook Kwan, asked if the win was a surprise, said, "Yes. I am totally delighted."
Disappointments in the Mile included the Japanese mare Apapane, who beat only Flying Blue, and French-based Sahpresa, who ran eighth.
The day wrapped up with another win for the Hong Kong team as California Memory flashed through on the inside in the final 100 yards to lift the $2.6 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) by one length over another local, Irian. German-based Zazou, who raced close to the dawdling early pace, held on for third. Last year's Hong Kong Horse of the Year, Ambitious Dragon, finished fourth.
The win was a bit of vindication for California Memory, a 5-year-old gray gelding by Highest Honor. In last spring's Audemars Piguet QE II (HK-I), over the same course and distance, California Memory finished second behind Ambitious Dragon. He then went to Singapore, where he finished eighth in the Singapore Airlines International Cup (Sing-I).
This year, said winning trainer Tony Cruz, California Memory "has become a better, stronger racehorse in every way. He has the best acceleration. Whether the pace is slow, like it was today, or right on, he is able to accelerate into it."
Cruz said he will target the big local races, as well as Dubai and Singapore, for California Memory.