Japan's Neorealism eclipses Pakistan Star
Moreira magic makes the difference between winning and losing in the QEII Cup in Hong Kong
Jockey Joao Moreira took the bull by the horns to win his first Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday, as NEOREALISM repelled Pakistan Star's late rally to ensure a fourth Japanese victory in the HK$20 million (S$3.6 million) feature.
"It's so special to win such a race, and a race that I haven't won before. The first is always very special," Moreira said after crossing the line a fist-pumping neck ahead of the Hong Kong Derby runner-up, with last year's APQEII victor, Werther, a short head away in third.
The winning time was 2min 04.59sec.
The Noriyuki Hori-trained Neorealism had been pinned as a likely leader in the eight-runner field, but after missing the kick, Moreira slotted in towards the back of the pack.
Australian raider The United States found himself the reluctant pace-setter under Brett Prebble, but, after that rival dictated pedestrian opening 400-metre splits of 28.03sec and 26.77sec, Moreira decided enough was enough approaching the 1,000m point. The champion jockey released some slack and the 4.5 chance rolled to the fore.
"He didn't really jump as well as we expected," the Brazilian said. "We thought he was going to be able to lead but, as he jumped a little bit slowly, I had to give him a chance to get cover behind horses.
"The pace slowed so much on the back straight, so I had to pop out and get going. He got going but he wasn't at his top speed, so I was always confident that once we turned for home he was going to finish off strongly, which he did. It actually worked out pretty good because I was able to get him relaxed initially."
That move sent Pakistan Star from a close-up third, one-back on the fence, to four-and-a-half lengths fifth and pumping at the 700m mark.
Up ahead, with his rivals measured and weighed, Moreira shook the reins at the turn-in and crouched for the drive home. The flashy Japanese raider responded with every stride, holding off his immediate challengers Blazing Speed and Werther and then lunging determinedly to withstand Pakistan Star's late thrust.
"He doesn't seem to be a horse that would sit and sprint, so the early move, I think, was the key to getting him to win," Moreira added. "Mr Hori gave me the freedom in case things happened the way they did today - I would have gone a little bit earlier, but I think it worked out perfectly this way. Japanese horses are strong everywhere they go."
The six-year-old chestnut, ninth on his only previous visit to Sha Tin when below par in December's Group 1 Hong Kong Mile, followed Eishin Preston (2002, 2003) and Rulership (2012) as a Japanese winner of the spring feature.
For Hori, it was a fifth win in Hong Kong from 11 starters - equating to five Group 1 wins at the course in the past 17 months, which makes him the overseas trainer with the most Group 1 wins in Hong Kong history.
"In December he had had a tough programme and it was difficult for him to keep his condition," Hori said. "But he learned a lot from that and that helped him on this second visit to Hong Kong and he was able to improve on that.
"We talked about race tactics and possible patterns before the race but Joao gave him the best ride. Joao rode him in morning track work, so he got to know a bit about the horse and that was good for him."
Moreira rode a five-timer on the day, including a score aboard the Moore-trained EAGLE WAY in the day's second feature, the Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2,400m). - HKJC.