Cup triumph ends doubts over Express' stamina
TONY HARBIDGE (Topspeed)
Oriental Express put the record straight with a thrilling success in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Larry Yung's Horse Of The Year-elect gained deserved compensation for his loss in the International Cup in December and by keeping the $5.3 million prize at home dispelled the stamina worries widely touted after his Gold Cup loss to stable companion Indigenous.
The change in tactics clearly played a role in the turn-around of form, but in accepting that point full praise has to be afforded ace South African pilot Douglas Whyte for settling his mount to perfection through the early stages.
As highlighted in this column after that Gold Cup second, the figures have never really supported the lack of stamina theory for Oriental Express.
While the Ivan Allan-trained galloper clocked his best Topspeed rating of 97 over 1,800 metres in the Cup, he already had a 2,000-metre time figure of 93 to his name from last season and his brilliant win at the weekend adds a rating of 92 to his record, all top-class speed figures in terms of racing in the territory.
On Gold Cup day, Oriental Express raced too freely through the early stages of the race and returned a relatively sub-standard speed figure of 81.
New Zealand raider Vialli (97) would probably have prevailed with a clear run in the straight and Royal Ascot winner Starborough (92) clearly didn't give his true running (he was edgy beforehand and too free in the race) but nothing should detract from the merit and importance of this home-team victory.
Oriental Express has now twice proven his ability against International competition and both Johan Cruyff (90) and Indigenous (88) are also clearly worthy competitors in International Pattern company, especially over farther distances.
As if to further highlight the depth of quality in Allan's stable, the champion trainer sent out Billion Win to land the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup for his sixth win on the trot.
In addition to displaying immense heart to battle back after being headed by both Deauville (84) and Hong Kong Derby runner-up En Rapport (84), this second-season galloper earned his best time rating so far with his winning time of one minute and 35.6 seconds equating to a Topspeed rating of 83.
To notch three wins on the bounce in Hong Kong is special, to make it six is a truly outstanding effort from both horse and trainer.
However, with further improvement on the cards when this rising star is stepped up in trip beyond a mile, the truly exciting aspect of Sunday's victory is that we have almost certainly not seen the best of Billion Win as yet.
Other performances to note came from Outstanding Lad and Eastern Magnate in the two sections of the Dubai Handicap.