Japan-Based Horses Sweep Three Hong Kong Group I Races

Japan-based horses Agnes Digital, Eishin Preston, and Stay Gold swept the three group I races on Sha Tin RaceCourse's Hong Kong International Day card Sunday.

Under Hirofumi Shii, Agnes Digital held off resurgent favorite Tobougg to win the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) by a head. Terre a Terre finished third of 14, a neck behind the runner-up.

"The pace of the race fitted right into our plans," said Shii. "I could feel and hear the other horses trying to make a run at us, but I knew that we had the situation completely under control. After the two other Japanese horses won their races, I did feel some pressure, because I knew I was expected to win my race, too. Now, I'm going to go out and have a very fine celebration."

Saeed bin Suroor, trainer of Tobougg, was pleased with his colt's performance.

"Tobougg ran a great race," said the conditioner. "When the winner went past him he kept fighting back in tenacious style and was gaining again at the line. He will be a serious horse next season over races between ten furlongs and 12 furlongs.

Agnes Digital earned $1.2 million for the win, his 10th in 21 starts. He entered the race off a one-length win over T.M. Opera O in the Tenno Sho in Tokyo. Toshiaki Shirai trains the 4-year-old son of Crafty Prospector for owner Takao Watanabe. Now an eight-time stakes winner, Agnes Digital was bred in Kentucky by Catesby W. Clay and Peter J. Callahan.

Toyomitsu Hirai's Eishin Preston was also bred in Kentucky (by Joseph E. Gehl). The Japanese 2-year-old champion of 1999 won for the eighth time in 20 career starts Sunday in the Hong Kong Mile (HK-I). He swept from the back of the pack in the stretch to earn the three-quarter length win over Hong Kong-based Electronic Unicorn. Godolphin's China Visit ran third.

"This horse can be a little bit difficult to ride, but he showed us his best today," said winning rider Yuichi Fukunaga. "I was under no pressure."

"The ground was too quick for China Visit but he ran well," said bin Suroor.

In the 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase (HK-I), Japanese-bred Stay Gold caught Ekraar at the wire to b win by a head over the Godolphin runner.

"In the early part of the race, I was a little bit farther back than I wanted to be but everything worked out fine," said Stay Gold's rider Yutaka Take. "I'm very happy. There are no difficulties in riding a horse like Stay Gold. He does what he's supposed to do, virtually on his own."

Ekraar kicked clear to a four-length lead in the stretch but just failed to hang on for the win.

"They went slow and I know Ekraar is a tough horse so I decided to go for it," said rider Frankie Dettori. "He gave it his best shot. What can you say?"

In March, Stay Gold rallied late to catch Godolphin's Fantastic Light in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-II), winning by a nose. Stay Gold had shown a gradual improvement in his form since returning from a four-month layoff in October. He finished eight in his return race, the Kyoto Daishoten, won by T.M. Opera O. He was then seventh three weeks later in Agnes Digital's Tenno Sho. In his next start, he finished fourth in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I), in which T.M. Opera O finished second in defense of his 2000 Cup win. The Hong Kong Vase win marks the seventh in 50 career starts for the 7-year-old son of Sunday Silence.

(Chart, Hong Kong Cup)

(Chart, Hong Kong Mile)

(Chart, Hong Kong Vase)