Viva Pataca Back in Top Form

Hong Kong runner wins first start back in stunning fashion.

Last year’s Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) still gives John Moore bad dreams, but in the wake of a stunning first-up win by Viva Pataca Oct. 26, it should be the opposition that suffer the nightmares in less than two months time.

Viva Pataca, starting at 21-1, was simply awesome in coming from last to win the group III Mission Hills Sha Tin Mile Trophy, despite shouldering topweight of 133 pounds. It was a performance that confirms Viva Pataca’s claims as one of the best horses in Hong Kong, as the history books are littered with top-weighted horses that have come to grief in this race.

In six of the last seven years, for example, the winners of the race have carried 118 pounds or less, but Viva Pataca cared little for history or statistics as he charged home in astonishing time in a race where on-pace runners should have been best suited.

“I’ve been saying for weeks that we have never had Viva Pataca in such great physical condition and today he underlined exactly what I mean,” Moore said. “Resuming from a spell and carrying the big weight today, we knew he would run well but I can’t honestly say I thought he would win with so much against him—he’s not fully tuned yet. “But despite that, he’s given them all a start, given them all weight, and beaten them very easily at the finish—he must have run some amazing time for his last 400 meters.”

Amazing indeed, as the Jockey Club’s official sectional times confirm. The tempo was only moderate, set by outsider Gold Striker who ambled through his first 800 meters in :48.6, and his first 1,200 meters in 1:12.5.

Viva Pataca has come from the tail of the field to stop the clock at 1:34.71 for the 1,600 meters, with a personal last 800 meters in :44.91 and a blistering final 400 meters in :21.42.

This is world-class finishing speed that would match or exceed the greatest Hong Kong milers of years gone by, such as Fairy King Prawn or Electronic Unicorn.

Viva Pataca will now step straight into the group II Cathay Pacific International Cup Trial over 2,000 meters at Sha Tin Nov. 16, and then into the HK$20 million Hong Kong Cup Dec. 14.

In last year’s dramatic Hong Kong Cup, Viva Pataca (Michael Kinane) was nosed out of the rich prize by Frankie Dettori on Ramonti after Dettori pocketed Kinane at a crucial stage of the race.

Egyptian Ra fought on gamely to finishing second after racing too fiercely in the early and middle stages, with Joy And Fun running the race of his life for third.

While one hero returned on top, fans of Horse of the Year Good Ba Ba will have to wait for another day as last season’s champion miler found the task of carrying the big weight (133 pounds) under handicap conditions beyond him.

However, trainer Andreas Schutz and jockey Olivier Doleuze were quick to assure the gelding’s legion of supporters that the real Good Ba Ba would turn up next in the International Mile Trial Nov. 23.

“He travelled quite nicely for me but when I asked him to extend in the home straight, he just couldn’t do it under the big weight,” Doleuze said. “He wanted to, but he was just anchored.”

Schutz’s review mirrored his pre-race warnings, that a first-five finish would be a satisfactory result for the champion first-up under handicap conditions—the gelding finished sixth, beaten just 2 3/4 lengths.

“The winner had a barrier trial over a mile, while our horse trialled over 1,000 meters,” Schutz explained. “I still believe he’s come back as well as last season, and he’s being trained to peak on international day. The main thing is that the horse has come through the race well.”