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Sunday, December 10, 2006


Hong Kong unearthed it’s new champion in a changing of the guard on Cathay Pacific International raceday which featured three nail-biting finishes, a track record run and the retirement of three of the world’s great thoroughbred race mares.

The ambitiously (but now aptly) named Absolute Champion lived up to his moniker with a dazzling performance in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, winning by a lengthening four lengths plus, and smashing the track record he held - running a blistering 1 minute 7.8 sec.

Champion French mare Pride headed the list of retirees and left the racing scene with a typically gritty win in the CX HK Cup when she held out a late thrust from Japanese contender Admire Moon. Alexander Goldrun, unplaced behind Pride, and Ouija Board, scratched due to injury, have also been retired.

Pride’s winning margin was just a short head. Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile winner The Duke, a HK$1.6 million Hong Kong International Sale purchase and now HK$34 million winner, similarly scraped home by a head. It was even closer in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase with Collier Hill holding on by a nose from the desperately unlucky Kastoria.

In start contrast to the ‘nail-biters’ was the extraordinary performance of Absolute Champion which many would argue was the highlight of the day. He looms as the new superstar of Hong Kong racing and he had far in his wake the former pin-up horse - Silent Witness, a brave but distant second.

Ironically, Absolute Champion’s trainer David Hall was the man who trained Silent Witness before he came to Hong Kong. Again it was an Australian bred winner of the Sprint and Hall, in his third HK season, said the victory was “sweet”. Perhaps made sweeter by the fact that Absolute Champion was not included in the original sprint field.

Pride, the Arc runner-up and now nine times winner, was described as a “special filly” by her trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre while jockey Christophe Lemaire lauded her “wonderful fighting spirit”.

Collier Hill, prepared by Alan Swinbank and ridden by Dean McKeown, won the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase to add to his victories in Ireland, Sweden and Canada in the past 15 months. No one could begrudge the eight-year-old the spoils but there’s little doubt that Kastoria - with a clearer run - would have won.

Similarly the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile success of The Duke was deserved and greeted warmly as the seven-year-old had been ‘so close, so often’. The Duke, ridden by Olivier Doleuze and prepared by Caspar Fownes, held out the more fancied local Armada with the Italian Ramonti a courageous front-running third.

The day saw great competitive racing at the top level which saw a positive response at the turnstiles and at the betting windows according to HKJC Executive Director of Racing, Mr Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“It’s the best international race meeting we have staged in eight and a half years. Fantastic racing and the figures were very good with an increase of 27 percent in attendance on last year and a 9.6 per cent turnover increase.

“Even without Takeover Target and Ouija Board, we have had a terrific day...lots of exciting finishes and the fact that The Duke came from our sale gives me particular satisfaction,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

Emotional victory farewell for Pride in Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup

PRIDE, the superb French mare, rounded off a fantastic career with a highly emotional victory in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup taking her winnings to a massive HK$30 million.

The Alain Royer-Dupre-trained six-year-old hung on by a short head in a thrilling climax from Admire Moon and will now be retired to stud.

Her jockey, Christophe Lemaire, came wide into the straight travelling well and when he asked Pride to quicken, she swept into the lead to win by two lengths. It looked as if the chestnut mare had her rivals tamed but then Admire Moon uncorked a withering late burst and Lemaire had to summon every last effort from Pride to scrape home in front.

In contrast to her unlucky-in-running second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe when Pride was giving five pounds to a northern hemisphere-bred three-year-old - Rail Link when beaten a neck - this time she was in receipt of one pound from the gallant Japanese sophomore. It made all the difference.

Lemaire said: “When it came to the last corner I was behind Alexander Goldrun. She helped me into the race but unfortunately we had to come a little bit early. She has a great turn of foot, but her run is quite short so she was stopping a bit for me at the end and I was frightened we might get caught. It was her special fighting spirit that got her home.”

Royer-Dupre, whose Shamdala finish third in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase earlier in the day added: “She has been a marvellous filly who has a brilliant turn of foot. Today is a special story in a long career. We have created a new system in keeping three great fillies going for so long. I will have to find another one.”

Vengeance Of Rain, conqueror last year of Pride in this very race, was courageous in defeat, filling third place while last season’s Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner Viva Pataca ran a creditable fourth.

Also making her final career start, Alexander Goldrun never threatened and finished ninth.

Third time lucky for The Duke in Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile

Third in Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile in 2004 and second last year, The Duke pinched Hong Kong's premier mile event under an excellent tactical ride from Olivier Doleuze.

Trained by Caspar Fownes, The Duke was always travelling well in the box-seat position and made a race-winning move at the head of the stretch. Tenaciously, he held onto the advantage as the Douglas Whyte-ridden 6/5 favourite Armada did his utmost to run him down in the final strides, failing by a head to get up.

Ramonti, in the hands of Endo Botti, cut out the early pace in the race, and held on gallantly for third place, with a wall of horses behind him.

Afterwards an elated Olivier Doleuze said: “It's great to win my first Group Race in Hong Kong, and this horse deserves his success. He has been placed in the race twice before and today was his day. I grabbed an advantage at the head of the straight, and that was what won it for me. I could feel Douglas Whyte closing on me, but I'm happy that today was our day and that he held on.”

For Armada it was a case of what might have been. Sent off as the Hong Kong public's elect on the strength of his victory in the CX International Mile Trial, where he had The Duke back in second, Armada did absolutely nothing wrong in defeat, as Douglas Whyte threw everything into the closing stages in his bid to catch the winner. “ What can you say, when you go down by a head? The post came a stride too soon, but he ran brilliantly and he gave me everything.”

The pace set by Ramonti, who was tracked by Sir Ernesto for a large part of the race, was an honest one, and set the race up perfectly for the late dual between the two principals. Armada apart, none of the other contenders were able to take a hand in the finish, once Doleuze had launched The Duke on his run to the wire.

The time was very quick - the 1 minute 33.4 run was just one-tenth of a second outside a track record standing for 23 years.

Absolute Champion show in Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint

ABSOLUTE CHAMPION smashed the track record in a scintillating performance in the HK$12million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint.

The David Hall-trained five-year-old representing Hong Kong lowered the record he set in October by three-tenths of a second, recording a time of 1m 7.8 sec.

Brett Prebble had Absolute Champion held up in midfield off a scorching pace in the early stages but when the leaders straightened up for home it was clear Absolute Champion was cruising and once
Prebble asked his charge to quicken, he burst clear to win by a massively impressive four-and-a-quarter lengths from former dual winner, Silent Witness and the British challenger, Benbaun.

Absolute Champion continued the incredible run of victories by Australian-bred horses in this race. They have won every Sprint since the race began in 1999.

David Hall said: “It would have been pretty hard to say that he could have improved after his last run when he broke the track record but somehow he’s done it. I was very disappointed that he wasn’t selected for the race in the first place as I thought there were no ifs and buts about it when he you break a track record. He’s proved it now.

“That’s one of the most impressive wins that I’ve seen for a long time and it’s sweet when it’s your own. I know that he had a bit of a reputation before he came to my stable but maybe he just enjoyed the switch. Adding the side-winkers has probably had an effect as well.”

Hall is in his third season in Hong Kong and won the Melbourne Cup in 2003 with Makybe Diva. He also prepared Silent Witness before today’s runner-up switched to Hong Kong.

Collier Hill reaches new heights in Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase

The fairytale story of Collier Hill took yet another barely imaginable twist as the eight-year-old British stayer repelled the late thrust of Kastoria by a nose to win the HK$14m Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase.

The horse that cost GBP5,500 as a cast-off and was bought to win a bumper at Catterick before a spell over hurdles has now won over HK$31m, adding to wins in last year’s Irish St Leger and the Canadian International in October.

Collier Hill raced prominently and took over the lead with over 300m to go and looked to have the race in safe keeping at the furlong pole – but that was when Mick Kinane had extricated Kastoria from an awkward passage and unleashed a tremendous run that brought him to within an agonising margin of the winner. Shamdala, owned like the runner-up by the Aga Khan, ran third with Song Of Wind fourth for Japan.

While it was a tale of hard-luck tale for the Irish-trained runner-up, take nothing from Collier Hill, so boldly touted all week by his jockey Dean McKeown - a man better known for his exploits at tracks in the north of Britain – as a horse that would not be beaten and one that excels when he travels overseas.

“I knew I had won turning for home!” the rider joked in the post-race media melee. “He picked up really well but near the line he turned his head at the crowd shouting and he started to ease up and when Kastoria came at him he really stuck his head out and just got in.”

Trainer Alan Swinbank, who trains 120 horses in a yard of flat and jump horses in North Yorkshire, added: “He was a bit dehydrated on Thursday and for a time it was touch and go whether we would run, and it was only yesterday that he came right again. We have always had trouble his joints and now we can look after them when he gets home. He deserves a break now, doesn’t he?”

“Long term, we might come back here next year, but you have to consider his age. In the meantime, he will go back to Dubai for the Sheema Classic in March when we will try to go one better than last year.”

For old articles (from 1st March 2000) go to the Newslink Archive

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