Satono Crown reels in the favourite
LONGINES Hong Kong Vase and Hong Kong Sprint
Japan's SATONO CROWN powered late under local hero Joao Moreira to overhaul the favourite Highland Reel in the HK$16.5 million (S$3 million) Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase over 2,400m at Sha Tin yesterday.
The packed crowd, along with the travelling Japanese fan club, cheered the two lead protagonists to the wire.
For Hong Kong's record-breaking champion jockey, Satono Crown's win ensured he joined Gerald Mosse as the only rider to complete a full-house of LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, following last year's Sprint success and a 2014 double in the Mile and Cup.
"It's a dream come true to achieve the full house," said Moreira. "I thought this horse was a very good chance before the race and the feeling that he gave me on the track the other day was great, so I knew I had a lot of horse underneath."
Moreira needed a lot of horse. Highland Reel lined up for the 14-runner contest as the 1.5 favourite off an all-the-way win in last month's Group 1 Breeders' Cup Turf - one of four Group 1s to the globetrotter's name, including this race last year.
And, when Ryan Moore kicked hard into the stretch, opening up a wide margin on the field, trainer Aidan O'Brien's charge appeared set for an imperious repeat win. Moreira, though, had other ideas.
"I was always confident I would get there," he said.
Satono Crown, a 19-1 outsider, found clear running with 300m to race but was fully three lengths adrift of the defending champ.
But as Satono Crown closed, Highland Reel's own limbs began to wilt and Moreira drove his mount past Ireland's flagging hero for a half-length win in the fastest Vase renewal in its 16 years as a Group 1 contest (2min 26.22sec).
The victory was a second for Japan in the Vase, 15 years after Stay Gold triumphed for Yasuo Ikee and Yutaka Take.
It also provided Japan's champion trainer Noriyuki Hori with a second HKIR win after Maurice's Mile title a year ago.
"We had been considering this race and after his performance in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) we decided to make this a priority," Hori said.
"We're happy that the horse has been able to come through and perform at his best."
Aidan O'Brien was satisfied with Highland Reel's effort, coming at the end of a 12-month span that has seen the horse race 10 times in six countries.
"He ran very well, he's had a long season but he ran a great race - he ran his heart out. He's had a phenomenal season," the Ballydoyle handler said.
AEROVELOCITY has long been one of Hong Kong's most beloved warriors and the eight-year-old achieved one of the more extraordinary wins of his storied career as he tenaciously held off emerging star Lucky Bubbles to land his second HK$18.5 million Hong Kong Sprint.
No horse older than six had won the Sprint since its inception in 1999 and trainer Paul O'Sullivan had acknowledged throughout the build-up to this year's edition that he was worried Father Time had caught up with Aerovelocity (Zac Purton).
Last year's winner Peniaphobia held on for third after leading, while Amazing Kids charged for fourth to complete a Hong Kong quartet. - HKJC