Hong Kong Racing Report: Sunline, Fantastic Light Shine

Hong Kong Racing Report: Sunline, Fantastic Light Shine
Photo: George Selwyn
Godolphin Racing's Fantastic Light, winning Sunday's Hong Kong International Cup.
Published in Dec. 23 issue of The Blood-Horse
The New Zealand-bred and based mare Sunline stole the show in Hong Kong with a whisker's win in the HK$10 million Mile (HK-I) at Sha Tin. What made her win more impressive was her opponent, local favorite Fairy King Prawn, came on strong with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, but the big bay mare held on past the wire.

"I'd say she'd have to be rated the best horse in the world this year," said her trainer Trevor McKee.

Two other horses were up to take a shot at that title in the International Cup. Sha Tin's International Races, held Sunday outside Hong Kong, included the final leg of the Emirates World Series, whose results depended on the outcome of the Cup. \

If Samum or Fantastic Light could win the Cup, they would knock off the current points leader, Giant's Causeway and earn the winners' $1 million (US) bonus. Seven U.S.-based horses boarded planes, expenses courtesy of the HKJC, with the intent to compete in the 10th annual Hong Kong International Races.

However, an incident the morning of the card kept trainer Ben Cecil and owner Gary Tanaka's Falcon Flight grounded in the quarantine barn.

The HKJC reported Falcon Flight was scratched due to discovery of an illegal anti-inflammatory drug. When asked his side of the story, Cecil said, "I don't really want to go into it."

Apparently he was distressed that the HKJC only notified him of the scratch during the third race, and he argued the substance found hadn't been ingested by the horse since he had arrived in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Sprint (HK-III), kicked off the first day in which Hong Kong hosted four group races. On track attendance for the day, which benefited from sun and heat, totaled 71,272. An additional 8,250 people watched from Hong Kong Island at Happy Valley Racecourse.

Favored in the HK$6 million (US$775,000) Sprint field of 14 was local horse Nuclear Debate at 2-1, followed by 5-1 Plenty-Plenty in the race. The six horse, Falvelon, and the seven, Morluc, had some of the only listed calls in the quick five-furlong race on the straight. After the photo finish Australia's Falvelon had the win, with America's Morluc second. The winner paid HK$55 to win, and the quinella (exacta) returned $536.50.

"Had he run against the same field in the United States, he would have won by five lengths," said Randy Morse, trainer of Morluc. "Morluc has never run on a straightaway before. He had never run in this (clockwise) direction before." Another Aussie horse, Adam, finished third.

Falvelon (Alannon--Devil's Zephyr, by Zephyr's Zing) carries with him sentimental value. The horse, now four, was bred by the late Brian Falvey, who passed away before he was able to see the horse run. His wife, Dawn, has carried on his involvement with horses, while also keeping a group of the couple's close friends together with this winning project. The other owners of the horse are L. (Arnie) Kelly, L. (Alan) Towner, Lindsey Stewart, and trainer Daniel Bougoure. The owners all live in Brisbane.

Two races later Sunline started to lay the foundation for the stellar win she would register at the wire. The HKJC gave out an award before each race honoring the stable with the 'best turned-out horse.' Before the Mile, that was definitely Sunline.

"We've already got one," McKee said. "Let's hope it keeps up."

The field, led by Sunline, bunched up through the first six furlongs of the mile. Leaving the final turn, Sunline, the 2-1 favorite, entered the stretch with a golden lead, but just as quickly Fairy King Prawn accelerated to cut into her margin. As he moved up, the crowd's voices grew exponentially. To complete the cycle, he responded with more speed and fell just a tad short of the bay mare. The millimeters separating them at the wire, officially a short head, made the Mile the closest of the four group races.

McKee owns 50% of Sunline along with longtime friends Thayne Green and Helen Lusty. He said he is looking at options in Dubai and Singapore for 2001, as well as the possibility of selling Sunline when her racing career is over, but options to buy her in training have been refused.

The route race of the afternoon, the 1 *-mile Hong Kong Vase, drew a globe-trotting bunch. It included Daliapour and Caitano, third and fourth in the Canadian International (Can-I), Catella, who had finished third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT), and Gary Tanaka's Ela Athena, most recently fourth in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I).

Tanaka had been wary of Ela Athena's inside two post, but the gray filly broke well and fell in behind a group of pacesetters which included Natural Winner and Idol. Daliapour, recently purchased from the Aga Khan by a Hong Kong syndicate, Lucky Stable, was tucked in fourth after the first three-quarters of a mile.

In the stretch, John Murtaugh let Daliapour have his head, and he took a sizable lead with less than a furlong to run. As they approached the wire, the field and Daliapour see-sawed, one gaining ground, then the other making up the difference, but in the end it was Daliapour going away. Ela Athena made a well-placed run to finish second, with the German horse Caitano finishing third.

The Vase was Daliapour's last for Michael Stoute, who will transfer the horse to a Hong Kong trainer.

With the loss of Falcon Flight, only one American representative was left for the HK$14,000,000 Cup, Forbidden Apple. Stoute and Murtaugh paired up again with Greek Dance in the Cup, but the moment belonged to Godolphin Stables.

Forbidden Apple and Industrialist went early to the lead of the Cup, run at a classic distance of 10 furlongs. As the field made its way through the first turn, the leaders appeared to be slowing the group down while moving nearly single file through the backstretch.

Frankie Dettori, whose biggest splash of the weekend to this point had been birthday cake and champagne at the gala dinner Friday (complete with a shower of bubbly for the front row), kept Fantastic Light in striking distance until the final turn, where he sent the son of Rahy ahead. The rest of the field splayed five across, chasing after them, but Fantastic Light kept a strong run down the stretch for a strong win at the wire.

The win gave him the Emirates series win with 24 points to the 18 held by Giant's Causeway. Dettori topped all jockeys in the series with 46 points, and trainer Saeed bin Suroor won his division with 52.

"I felt happy when I saw his speed lasted very long," said Suroor of his winner. "He looks very sharp. It is good to come to Hong Kong and see how the races have changed, even in just five years, and to bring the tough horses to win these races."

Suroor said Fantastic Light will now get a break in Dubai before going back into training in February.

(More, Hong Kong Jockey Club)

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