Hong Kong International Races: all you need to know in the Sha Tin takeaway

Horse Racing Normcore Sha Tin Hong Kong Cup
Normcore (Zac Purton) wins the G1 Longines Hong Kong Cup. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

By Nicholas Godfrey

So you know Magical was third behind a Japanese one-two at the Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, where local star Golden Sixty was spectacular and Mogul scored for Ballydoyle. Here’s some other stuff you might like to know – plus all the race videos…

NEW! April 25: Hong Kong takeaway: Golden Sixty survives serious scare and Japan goes 1-2-3-4 in QEII Cup

What’s going on?

UPDATE, DECEMBER 22: Thanks for the memories: mighty mare Magical retired – and this time it’s for real

Magical fell short in her bid to become the first eight-time G1 winner of Aidan O’Brien’s amazing career, finishing a gallant third, beaten less than a length behind Japan’s Normcore in the Hong Kong Cup.

However, although the race was widely forecast to be the mighty mare’s last, O’Brien left the door open to her running again in 2021 – saying the decision rested with the Coolmore’s power brokers, or “the lads”, as he refers to them.

“She looks great after the race and seems to have pulled up sound,” he said, speaking to Sky Sports Racing. “I suppose we’ll take her home and see what the lads want to do. She would be some mare to have for next year. If she comes home well and everything is well, we’d love to have her but it will be the lads’ decision.”

Alongside Magical, O’Brien’s seven-time G1 winners are Rock Of Gibraltar, Minding, Yeats and Highland Reel.

Horse Racing Normcore Sha Tin Hong Kong Cup
Normcore and Zac Purton after the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

Normcore completes Japanese one-two

Japanese-trained horses have a formidable record in Hong Kong, where no other overseas nation has produced so many winners.

After victories in three of the four HKIR races in 2019, they were at it again in 2020 wth a double courtesy of Danon Smash (Sprint) and Normcore, who claimed the HK$28m (£2.73m) feature by three-quarters of a length from compatriot Win Bright, the 2019 winner, in a Japanese one-two. All this from just six runners as well.

Normcore is a five-year-old daughter of King George winner Harbinger trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara. She is the first filly or mare to win the HK Cup since Snow Fairy in 2010.

Frustrated Soumillon misses out again

After missing two winners at the Breeders’ Cup owing to his positive COVID-19 test, Christophe Soumillon was again forced to sit and suffer in Hong Kong.

He has been booked for Normcore – only to miss out again when he was not allowed to ride owing to quarantine protocols after a COVID test on Thursday.

Hong Kong champion Zac Purton stepped up to the plate, and duly became the most successful rider ever at the HKIR with his ninth success at the meeting – one more than Gerald Mosse.

“It’s something I’m very proud of, it’s a great achievement,” said Purton, who  also won the richly endowed International Jockey Challenge at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.

“To also now be the only jockey to win the full set of international races twice is also for myself somewhat rewarding,” added the 37-year-old.

HK Mile: Golden Sixty goes global

The racing world is greeting a new superstar after Hong Kong’s hometown hero Golden Sixty stepped out onto the global stage with a brilliant performance at Sha Tin to register his 11th win a row in brutally emphatic fashion.

Beaten only once in a 15-race career, the son of Medaglia d’Oro last season became only the second horse ever to sweep the Hong Kong Classic series.

Having his fourth start of the 2020-21 season – and his eighth of 2020 overall – the five-year-old gelding was a 3-10 favourite before ruthlessly dismantling an international field, despite being forced to race wide for much of the race.

After entering the straight nearer last than first, Golden Sixty produced his trademark turn of foot to cut down his rivals, who were led home by HK veteran miler Southern Legend two lengths behind, with last year’s winner Admire Mars third for Japan.

“He’s amazing, isn’t he?” said jockey Vincent Ho after a dazzling display. Few would argue.

Staying at home – for now

Golden Sixty may now have advertised his talents on the world stage but he won’t be going anywhere overseas in the immediate future – ruling out a trip to Dubai and presumably Royal Ascot too.

Horse Racing Golden Sixty Sha Tin Hong Kong Mile
Golden Sixty (Vincent Ho) wins the Longines Hong Kong Mile. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

 “Not this season,” said trainer Francis Lui. “Because of the virus, we’ll keep him in Hong Kong this season.”

First for Vincent Ho and Francis Lui

Golden Sixty’s victory was a proper hometown success for his domestic trainer/jockey team of Francis Lui and Vincent Ho, neither of whom had ever scored before at Hong Kong’s highest-profile meeting.

Lui was delighted to see Golden Sixty eclipse Beauty Generation’s mark of 10 wins in a row – in Hong Kong, only the near-immortal Silent Witness has won more races on the bounce.  

“I can have a good sleep tonight!” said Lui. “I’m very happy – at the moment, I don’t know what to say, [my heart] is still pumping. As a jockey, as a trainer, as an owner, you’re dreaming of this.

 “I was worried about the horses from Japan and Ireland but now, after this race, he has shown me that he’s a champion.”

Beauty Generation retired

Dual HK Horse Of The Year Beauty Generation made a valiant attempt to bow out in a blaze of glory, finishing an honourable fifth in the Mile.

The eight-year-old, winner of eight G1 races, now retires as Hong Kong’s highest-earning racehorse and will spend the rest of his life at the Living Legend rest home in Australia. “I knew it may be on the table,” said jockey Zac Purton.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” he added. It’s a sad end. He’s been the best horse for me in my career. I’m certainly going to miss him. He was brave again today and wherever he may go in the world, I’m sure I’ll go and visit him in his paddock one day.”

Order Of Australia stays in training

Shock Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia, sixth to Golden Sixty, stays in training as a four-year-old, according to Aidan O’Brien.

“We were very happy with his run,” said the trainer on Sky Sports Racing. “He had a completely different draw to America, he was caught behind the pace a little bit and probably had to wait for them to move before he did. He started to come but the gaps just didn’t open for him and then he just went down a gear.

“We think he’s going to be a lovely miler next year, maybe starting in the Queen Anne and possibly something before it.”

Horse Racing Mogul Sha Tin Hong Kong Vase
Mogul (Ryan Moore) wins the G1 Longines Hong Kong Vase. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

HK Vase: Mogul lays down marker for 2021 Arc

Thoughts turned immediately to next year’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as slow-maturing Mogul brushed aside Hong Kong’s best middle-distance performer Exultant for a three-length victory in the Vase.

Ryan Moore, who later completed a double on Japan’s Danon Smash in the Sprint, compared the 3.4m gns son of Galileo to his Ballydoyle predecessor Dylan Thomas, who won the Arc in 2007 under Kieren Fallon.

“He’s a beautiful-looking horse and he reminds me of Dylan Thomas,” said the rider. “I never rode him but he’s a similar type of horse with lots of ability and a good mind.”

Trainer Aidan O’Brien was recording his third victory in Hong Kong – all of them in the Vase after Highland Reel’s two victories in 2015 and 2017.

HK Sprint: Danon Smash initiates Japanese double

The Japanese double at Sha Tin was initiated by Danon Smash, who overwhelmed his rivals in the HK Sprint under Ryan Moore, himself completing a double after Mogul’s victory in the HK Vase earlier on the card. 

Moore has now won seven races at this meeting – more than any other overseas-based rider.

Only eighth in last year’s race, the son of Lord Kanaloa (who won this race twice) has long been regarded as one of Japan’s top sprinters but had never before struck at the top level, despite several prominent efforts and six victories in graded events of lower rank.

He had to overcome the widest draw in a 14-runner field before holding off the late charge of local hope Jolly Banner in a time of 1m 8.45s.

How good is Gran Alegria?

Danon Smash paid a massive compliment to brilliant sprinter-miler Gran Alegria, who treated him with disdain with a two-length victory the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama in October.

Given that she also beat Almond Eye earlier this year in the Victoria Mile, there is an argument that she might be the nation’s number one.

Classique Legend: owner blames draw for flop

Making his Hong Kong debut after leaving Australia as their number one sprinter following his Everest triumph, Classique Legend was never a factor from his inside post.

After a slow break, he was towards the rear throughout before making a mild move to finish 11th in a hugely disappointing effort. “The tough luck started with the barrier draw,” said owner Boniface Ho.

Classique Legend had drifted to second favourite behind local hope Hot King Prawn, only seventh as 11-10 market leader and showing little after holding every chance a furlong out.

Shall we talk about it?

Ryan Moore (Mogul’s jockey): “He got there very comfortably and he just lacks a bit of maturity still. In reality, I was in front sooner than would have been ideal today but he took me there nicely. When he gets in front, he maybe lacks a bit of concentration still but he’s a beautiful- looking horse.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be in front when I was, but he was going and I had to commit. He was just waiting when he was in front, having a good look and taking it all in.
“He’s got a fantastic mind, so travelling won’t stress him. He’ll be a really nice four-year-old. He loves decent ground.
“ He’s a horse that we always expected a lot from and I think a few times the ground was a little bit against him. Maybe even in America, the pace was wrong but the ground might have been loose enough. At York, the ground might have been deep enough for him that day. These fast, flat tracks suit him. They let him show what class he has.”

Ryan Moore talks after victory on Mogul in the Hong Kong Vase. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

Aidan O’Brien (Mogul’s trainer): “We’re delighted with him. He’s a big, powerful, strong horse who is made like a miler. It was only when we started riding him patiently and riding him more for speed than stamina that we’ve seen the best of him. Ryan gave him a lovely ride. He settled lovely and quickened very well.
“Ryan says he’s really matured and is really improving. He’s got a very solid mind. He ran very well in America and we saw what he did in France on good ground in a nicely run race and he did the same today.
“He’s a very exciting horse for next year – I think anything from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half on nice ground.”

Ryan Moore (Danon Smash’s jockey): “I think when he got the draw we were all possibly a bit worried. We got lucky – he stepped very well and we managed to slot into a lovely spot, I was always happy and when the pace steadied around the bend, I was able to just move out and keep moving forward and he got there in plenty of time.
“He was very tough and very honest. He was a pleasure to ride and he’d shown very good form at times in Japan’s best sprints and at seven furlongs as well he’s won some of the best races at  G2 level and he deserved to win his G1.”

Horse Racing Danon Smash Sha Tin Hong Kong Sprint
Danon Smash (Ryan Moore) wins the G1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

Boniface Ho (Classique Legend’s owner): “The tough luck started with the barrier draw. He was completely boxed in soon after jumping out, couldn’t move out, couldn’t move back to circle out. At 300m the horse was fed up. Nobody’s fault but just my bad luck to get barrier one.”

Vincent Ho (Golden Sixty’s jockey): “They went a little bit hard early and I was quite far back, so I just let him slide through from the 600 and it only took him a few strides to almost get to them. I tried to save him until I let him down and when I asked for him, he did it really well, he gave me a really big effort.
“When I hit the top of the straight, I knew. I was just cruising and I didn’t think anyone could beat him in that sort of sprint. He’s a horse that really wants to compete, he’s the best horse in Hong Kong at the moment. Today is all about him.”

Zac Purton (Normcore’s jockey): “She had to fight for it, Win Bright gave a really sharp kick and his love for Sha Tin was starting to show through. But she was determined and inch by inch, she just kept putting herself in the frame.”

Aidan O’Brien (Magical’s trainer): “She ran a stormer. She had a tough race in Ascot in bad ground even though they didn’t go fast and we backed up in Keeneland on slowish ground. That can often take the edge off them – she ran home very well but was a little lacklustre at the gate and in the first part of the race.
“She would’ve preferred the pace to be a little faster because she was back a little bit further than Ryan would have liked because we know she gets a mile and a quarter really strong. But we saw how genuine she is – she’s an unbelievable filly really.”

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• More about the Longines Hong Kong International Races at the HKJC website

Magical on a mission for historic eighth G1 – Nicholas Godfrey on the Hong Kong Cup

Hong Kong champion Zac Purton fined HK$40,000 over Covid-19 Twitter post

Hong Kong golden boy on grid for Group 1 glory – James Willoughby on Golden Sixty

Christophe Soumillon forced to miss Hong Kong for more Covid-19 testing

Sunline v Fairy King Prawn: the Sha Tin showdown that resonates 20 years on

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