The revenge mission toward this year’s Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) is “full steam ahead” after Viva Pataca won the Nov. 16 HK$3 million Cathay Pacific International Cup Trial (HK-II) in a common canter at Sha Tin, leaving the owner, trainer, and jockey all licking their lips in anticipation of a glorious international day in December.
Viva Pataca confirmed his status as the highest-rated horse in town with a soft 1-1/4 length win over a gallant Hawkes Bay, ridden by Felix Coetzee, in the event over 2,000 metres. As far as jockey Darren Beadman is concerned, it’s all about attitude.
“That’s the major difference with him this year, his attitude,” Beadman explained. “Twelve months ago, he’d be behind the starting stalls, and you could feel his heart racing. He was sweating nervously, getting very angry and agitated, and using up a lot of energy in the process.
“Now he’s cool, calm, and collected. He’s not worrying about things the way he used to. (Trainer) John (Moore) and the staff have done a terrific job with him this season; he’s just so professional now.”
The Viva Pataca of old would have to be painstakingly smothered away and held up for one late burst, but the late 2008 edition can do whatever Beadman wants.
“I was following Felix on Hawkes Bay, and he just relaxed beautifully for me,” Beadman continued. “Coming to the home turn, I was truly going half pace, and it’s been great to be able to win the lead-up like this without having to give him a hard race.”
Moore was delighted in the victory, and the trainer senses the ghost of the 2007 Hong Kong Cup, when he was a “tragedy beaten” by Ramonti, may finally be laid to rest.
“That has been his program all along--the Mission Hills Sha Tin Mile Trophy (HK-III), and the Cup Trial,” Moore said.
“He’s won them both very impressively, so next stop it’s the Hong Kong Cup on international day--bring on Dec. 14. He’s probably at his peak now, so we won’t have to do much with him for the next month, just keep him ticking over.”
The victory may have looked text book, and indeed it was in terms of race day execution, but there had been some nervous hours behind the scenes after Viva Pataca capped an elbow earlier in the week.
It was a freakish accident, but it appears a sharp edge on one of his rear feet (that are filled with equilox) brushed his elbow, which then swelled up and presented the possibility of infection if not kept perfectly clean.
“All credit to my staff--they worked many hours with the horse, keeping the wound clean and making sure he made it to the post today,” Moore said. “They’ve done a great job, and the win is a just reward.”
Jockey Felix Coetzee rode a perfect tactical race on Hawkes Bay, with the David Hall-trained gelding having been the subject of a longshot plunge from more than 40-1 to 14-1 in the final minutes of betting.
In any other race, the preparation and handling of Hawkes Bay would have reaped a feature race dividend, but Viva Pataca does not get beaten when he’s in this sort of form.
Hall was slightly stunned that his charge could be swept away so easily and arrogantly, saying: “He’s run very well and I don’t think he can run any better--that’s as good as he is.”
Caspar Fownes is ready to change plans with Jackpot Delight after the New Zealand-bred worked home late to finish third, another 1-3/4 lengths behind Hawkes Bay.
“I’ve had a talk to the owner (Peter Law Kin-sang), and we may change tack and head toward the (Cathay Pacific Hong Kong) Vase (HK-I) at 2,400 metres,” Fownes said. “I don’t want to be running into that (Viva Pataca) again. He’s just unbeatable in that sort of form. He’s barely got out of a canter in beating those horses today.”