by Murray Bell
The equine influenza outbreak in Australia has had an unexpected positive implication for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, as Hong Kong-based Viva Pataca is now scheduled to compete at Monmouth Park and become Hong Kong’s first runner on racing’s biggest day in the United States.
Viva Pataca, owned by Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, was slated to go in the Cox Plate (Aust-I) in Melbourne, Australia, but will now be pointed toward the $3-million John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) Oct. 27, the same day as the Cox Plate. Trainer John Moore said Ho had given the “green light” for the 57-year-old trainer to prepare for the rich 1 1/2-mile event in New Jersey.
“I’ve spoken to Dr. Ho and he has left it in my hands,” Moore said. “If I believe that it’s the right thing for the horse, then the trip has his approval.”
Moore is the first to acknowledge he has a difficult task on his plate, with lack of suitable lead-up races on the Hong Kong racing program in the early part of the new season.
“Viva Pataca will run here first up in the National Day Cup Oct. 1, then my plan is to leave Hong Kong with him Oct. 20 and I’m speaking to (International Racehorse Transport) about a direct flight into New York,” Moore said. “He will only have the one lead-up race over 1,400 meters because really that is all the Hong Kong programming allows me--we don't have any other options.
“The idea is to go there, race, and be back in Hong Kong with a turnaround of 10 days, which will give him a good enough break between that trip and the International races here on Dec. 9.”
Viva Pataca, a 5-year-old by Marju, was formerly known as Comic Strip and was a highly-rated 2 and 3-year-old in the stable of Sir Mark Prescott. After being bought by Moore on Ho’s behalf, Viva Pataca blossomed into the equal highest-rated galloper in Hong Kong, on an international rating of 122, and has won the last two editions of the end-of-season championship, the Champions & Chater Cup (HK-I) at 2,400 meters.
His win in this year’s June 3 Champions & Chater was a revelation. The gelding gave jockey Michael Kinane an armchair ride before decimating his rivals, with Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) Vengeance of Rain second, 3 1/4 lengths back. The winning time of 2:24.6 smashed the previous course record of 2:27.8, set when Idol won the Queen Mother’s Cup in 2003 under the feather weight of 113 pounds.
After the Champions & Chater--Viva Pataca’s fourth group I win and third under Kinane--the jockey said Viva Pataca was a better horse than Scorpion, who had won the Coronation Cup (Eng-I) at Epsom in England two days earlier, and that he would “go anyway in the world” to stay with him next season.
Viva Pataca’s full Hong Kong record is 13 starts for six wins, one second, and three thirds. He has earned HK$29,870,500 ($3.83 million).
Moore, the elder son of fabled Australian jockey turned 11-time champion Hong Kong trainer George Moore, is the leading trainer of all time in the former British colony, and goes into the first meet of the new season with a career total of 966 winners. He has been Hong Kong’s champion trainer by number of wins five times, and has also been the leading trainer in purses earned the last two seasons.