Saturday, 30 December 2017

Longines Hong Kong International Raceday 2017

It is the day when everything comes together.
The horses are primed, their coats shimmering, their eyes glowing.
The owners are excited, nervous, anxious, hopeful.
The trainers are on edge but relieved that the day is here, there is no more they can do.
The atmosphere at one of the world's great racecourses is electric. Last year's Longines International Race meeting attracted a record crowd and there are not too many less converging on Sha Tin on December 10, 2017.
This is a day that is right up there with Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup week, the Dubai World Cup and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Horses and horse people from around the world come together on the international stage and the racing world watches on.
It is a day that flies by with four major races run in pairs; the Group One action taking place over just 2 1/2 hours. There is so much happening in such a short period of time and is a matter of getting a good seat in the mounting yard, having a bet, heading out the front and obtaining a prime viewing spot.
Cheers, admiration of a newly crowned champ then back to the mounting yard. And so the day passes by in a thrilling blur!
There have been some wonderful HKIR moments; who could forget a thrilling tussle between Sunline and Fairy King Prawn with racegoers, despite sending out the New Zealand star favourite, swayed by sentiment as the local hero made his challenge - screaming out "prawn, prawn, prawn."
Or when Silent Witness put on display his considerable dash taking out the Sprint on two occasions, a feat also accomplished by popular Queenslander Falvelon.
HKIR 2017 was another memorable one and whilst there was no Australian representation, there were plenty of Aussies on course and we were happy to cheer on horses with some connection to home - such as Highland Reel, sentimental and actual favourite in to take out his second Longines International Hong Kong Vase.
On the back of a W.S Cox Plate third to Winx in 2015, Highland Reel defeated Flintshire in the 2400m contest and was back a year later - after turning the tables on Flintshire in the Breeders' Cup Turf - finishing a gallant second to Satono Crown.
A year later and the durable son of Galileo was still in form and his second Vase victory was a particularly game one with Talismanic putting in a bold showing only to find the stud bound Highland Reel just too tough over the final stages - a fitting finale to a grand career.
"I was always happy and always confident," reported jockey Ryan Moore.
"He is the sort of horse who, once he gets into a fight, is almost always going to prevail. He dug in over the last furlong and I thought he was comfortable and going away at the finish."
The winner of ten races and just short of $14million in stakes, Highland Reel can be considered half Australian! His dam Hveger, daughter of the legendary Danehill, was a Ballarat maiden winner who had enough class to figure in the placings in the South Australian Oaks and the Australasian Oaks.
Also dam of Highland Reel's dual Group Two winning full brother Idaho, Hveger (named after an Olympic swimmer from Denmark) is a daughter of the wonderful Circles Of Gold; AJC Oaks winning dam of Elvstroem and Haradasun who - like Highland Reel - won at Group One level in multiple countries.
As did Starspangledbanner who also hails from this prolific family, one which descends from the famed matriarch Eulogy. A mare who had the honour of being born in the same year as, and running third (in a three horse race!) to the legendary The Tetrarch, she has had her influence felt far and wide as ancestress of such big  race winners as Vo Rogue, Dundeel, Fury's Order, Zephyr Bay, Red Handed and Bonecrusher.
And Hong Kong racing owes her plenty with two local stars - Ambitious Dragon and Sacred Kingdom - also being descendants.
As is Beauty Generation who made it two big wins for the same family when proving too tough for his rivals in the Longines Hong Kong International Mile.
It was probably the most emotional win of the day with popular local hoop Derek Leung recording his first Group One victory - his smile and excitement contagious with cameras furiously clicking as he repeatedly kissed his favourite horse on the nose.
“This was a great opportunity and I took advantage," Leung said. "We dictated the pace early on, and at the 450 metres I pressed the button a bit early because I knew he wouldn’t stop."
Bred in New Zealand by Nearco Stud, Beauty Generation raced in Australia as Montaigne where he faced the starter on seven occasions for the Anthony Cummings stable; winning at Warwick Farm and Randwick and splitting Tarzino and Jameka in the Rosehill Guineas.
By Encosta de Lago's dual Group One winner Road To Rock, Beauty Generation is out of the unraced Bel Esprit mare Stylish Bel, half-sister to the Listed winners Victory Trump and Savage Attack.
It was encouraging to see an Australian bred horse back in the winner's circle in the Longines Hong Kong International Sprint, a race we dominated from 1999 (Danehill's NSW bred son Fairy King Prawn) to 2009 (Encosta de Lago's Victorian bred son Sacred Kingdom).
Since then the race has been the reign of horses bred in South Africa (JJ The Jet Plane), Ireland (Lucky Nine and Peniaphobia), Japan (Lord Kanaloa twice) and New Zealand (Aerovelocity twice).
But this year it was the Victorian bred Mr Stunning, a son of champion stallion Exceed And Excel, who would dominate.
Bred by Tony Santic of Makybe Diva fame, Mr Stunning never raced in Australia but he did make his way through local sales rings on two occasions; fetching $110,000 as a weanling at Inglis Melbourne and NZ$250,000 as a Karaka yearling.
A horse with, dare I say it, a stunning turn of foot, Mr Stunning has won ten of his 16 starts. Bred on a 3 X 3 cross of Danzig, he is out of the American bred Dayjur mare With Fervour, full sister to Group Three winner With Fascination and half-sister to the five times Group One winner With Anticipation.
A grandson of Fran's Valentine, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and the Hollywood Oaks, Mr Stunning is a descendant of English 1000 Guineas heroine Chelandry whose descendants have made their mark around the world; this family represented by a wide variety of high class performers such as Heroic, Zeditave, The Trump, Just A Dash, Never Say Die, Magpie, Clarion, Forty Niner, Flight, Anabaa, Americain, Shadeed, Teofilo, Dissident, I Am Invincible and High Chaparral.
Those following Australian trainers and jockeys were also happy with Mr Stunning, a member of the John Size stable, being ridden by Nash Rawiller who was so very confident during the running of the rich dash - "I thought there would be more pressure on than there was. I was not too worried about them chasing me down, I was on the best horse."
Zac Purton made it a double for Australian jockeys steering home the handsome Time Warp to victory in the Longines Hong Kong International Cup... and it was a lovely on pace ride.
"I didn't think there was much speed on paper before the race so I thought I might be able to get my own way in front. I had a very easy time and that was key to the result."
HKIR's most successful trainer Tony Cruz had been confident - "if he has his way," he said, "nobody can beat him."
With the Hong Kong Jockey Club keen to encourage owners to race well related stud prospects (a new training centre at Conghua on the mainland set up to better house entires), they would've been pleased to see a local feature race winner provide a HKIR winner.
Sadly that horse - Archipenko, winner of the 2008 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin - passed away just prior to Time Warp's victory.
He stood at Lanwades Stud, breeders of Time Warp whose pedigree lights up the eyes of any line-breeding enthusiast... the chestnut carrying five generations of his own family! Whilst Archipenko has as his fourth dam Rough Shod II, his sire Kingmambo is out of a mare by Rough Shod II's great grandson Nureyev.
Time Warp's dam sire Stormy Atlantic has Rough Shod II as his fourth dam and she is also the dam of Lt Stevens whose grandson Lear Fan is Time Warp's second dam sire.

And Time Warp's ninth dam is Rough Shod II! Three of his strains of this internationally prolific family (one which also produced Sadler's Wells and Fairy King) come via the wonderful mare Special, dam of Nureyev, grandam of Archipenko and seventh dam of Time Warp.

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