Egyptian Ra took the points but Good Ba Ba’s Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) claims remain very much intact after a sensational ride from Felix Coetzee turned the favorite over in the HK$3 million Cathay Pacific International Mile Trial (HK-II).
Coetzee, 49, is the acknowledged master of the front-running ride and yesterday the South African horseman demonstrated the art form superbly, much to the chagrin of the team behind favored Good Ba Ba and his legion of fans.
Egyptian Ra led at a good, even pace but Coetzee applied the sleight of hand approaching the turn --- just when his rivals might have expected him to take a rest, he pinched an extra couple of lengths and put even more pressure on them. Good Ba Ba turned for home some 12 lengths from the leader and then ran the best final 400 meters (quarter mile) of the race --- 21.76 seconds --- for a commendable third, beaten 4 1/4 lengths.
But while trainer Andreas Schutz, jockey Olivier Doleuze and even stipendiary stewards were left to dissect the performance of the reigning HK Horse of the Year, Egyptian Ra’s connections were in celebration mode and looking forward to the HK$16 million Hong Kong Mile on December 14.
“This horse keeps stepping up and I was very proud of him today,” said trainer Tony Cruz, who just 35 minutes earlier had broken a run of 50 losses when Dehere's half brother Danesis (Danehill-Sister Dot, by Secretariat) won on the all-weather track. “He was not happy at his last start, when he got pocketed behind the leader and would not settle. He kept fighting and pulling against the jockey (Eric Saint-Martin) and yet he still ran second to Viva Pataca. If he had been ridden the way he was today, I believe he would have beaten Viva Pataca.”
Coetzee is the rider of choice for owner Cheng Keung-fai but was suspended at the time and missed the engagement for the Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m). Cruz made no bones about what he wanted Egyptian Ra ridden when giving instructions yesterday.
“I told Felix I wanted him to go straight to the front,” Cruz said emphatically. Coetzee later told of a “dream ride” as the New Zealand-bred chestnut strolled to the front early and then rolled through consistent section from the 1,200 meters.
“I promise you we went 20 meters and it's what you dream about, he relaxed at his own pace and I thought approaching the turn he was just cruising,” Coetzee explained. “So I kept rolling on him and got away and he was never going to stop.”
Egyptian Ra stopped the clock at 1:33.28 --- the second-fastest mile ever recorded in the 30 year history of Sha Tin racecourse. The course record of 1:33.1 was set in October, 2007, by Down Town on a lightning-fast surface.
“Today’s win though had it all --- big margins, the time on the clock, everything's there,” Coetzee summed up.
Schutz was intially disappointed at Good Ba Ba’s minor placing as an odds-on favourite but was feeling better about if after watching the video replay and talking with Dolueze.
“He’s given the leader a big start and run home better than anything else, so in the circumstances I’m pretty happy with the performance,” Schutz said. “The one thing we know is that the horse will improve even further with this run and should be right at his peak on international day.”
John Size-trained Sight Winner (Douglas Whyte) ran out of his skin to chase Egyptian Ra throughout and then hold off the late burst of Good Ba Ba. The stable now has the option of running Sight Winner in either the Mile or the Cup in three weeks time.