'This horse is only three years old and he can only get better. He is a future star'
Victorious trainer Tony Cruz said he had the next Hong Kong sprint sensation after King Of Danes dominated yesterday's Group One Centenary Sprint Cup. But rival trainer Lawrie Fownes was left bitterly disappointed after a starting gate incident that may have cost fourth-placed Kenwood Melody the second leg of the Champion Sprint Series.
'It's heartbreaking,' Fownes said. 'The horse lost 2.5 lengths and stood the winner up 10 in a 1,000-metre race. He's only been beaten a length.'
The stewards patrol footage of the incident showed that just prior to the start, Prime Witness, drawn beside Kenwood Melody, incorrectly anticipated the jump, lurched at the unopened gates, struck them and then bumped into an attendant who was between the two stalls holding Kenwood Melody's head.
In the heat of the moment, Kenwood Melody's rider Wendyll Woods believed the attendant had then not let go of the horse in time but the video evidence showed that the attendant did let the horse go in time then lost his balance as the start was effected, just slightly brushing the gelding's rump.
The incident caused Kenwood Melody to jump out away from Prime Witness, rear up and throw his head around, losing several lengths.
While Fownes was distraught after the feature sprint, Tony Cruz was heralding a new sprint superstar. 'This horse is only three years old and he can only get better,' Cruz bubbled after the barrier-to-box win. 'He is a real 1,000-metre specialist and a future star.'
It was the second short-course triumph this season for King Of Danes, who had the formline of a win over Fairy King Prawn and a close-up third to Falvelon in the Hong Kong Sprint before his two recent defeats.
Cruz pointed out that there had been good reasons behind those beaten efforts, the latest when ninth of 14 to Plenty-Plenty over 1200 metres in February.
'That day he drew 14, Felix had to use him up to overcome the bad barrier and that really set the horse on fire - he just refused to settle and didn't run the 1200 metres,' Cruz pointed out. 'And his run before that was on soft going and he needs it hard - the harder the better for this horse,' said Cruz.
Yesterday, King Of Danes' quicksilver gatespeed shot him three lengths clear in the first 200 metres and the three-year-old was highballing in a world of his own even as his main threats were finding their feet.
Inside the final 200 metres, the challenge came from Best Of The Best as Douglas Whyte cut loose his finishing burst. For a brief moment by the 150-metre mark, another Centenary Cup win loomed for Best Of The Best but it was only very brief.
After taking no pressure in the early stages, King Of Danes had juice in the tank to fend off the challenge and win with relative comfort by three-quarters of a length, with a short head to Plenty-Plenty and the fast-closing Kenwood Melody.
'Best Of The Best got to my hindquarters - I could just catch him out of the corner of my eye but he couldn't get any closer,' said Coetzee, who had allowed King Of Danes to run at his own speed and wondered at one stage if the colt was going a little too quickly. 'When he led by so far, I did think perhaps he was going a little fast but about halfway, I started to feel that he had more to come. He goes fast and you have to let him do it at his speed but he did save a little bit for the finish. He's very good.'
The feature was the second time that Cruz and Coetzee had combined to win on yesterday's card, with Whyte also relegated to second following a nail-biting finish that saw Turbojet posted the winner over Bonanza after being headed in the sixth event.
The double took Cruz to 31 victories for the season, creeping last season's champion trainer closer to the pacesetters Brian Kan Ping-chee and David Hayes, who were each winless.
French jockey Eric Legrix also conjured up a winning double late in the day with perfectly-judged efforts on Solid Contact for Derek Cruz and Ever Glory for Francis Lui Kin-wai.
Each presented a different conundrum for Legrix, with Solid Contact winning the start from gate one before being steadied behind the speed. Legrix covered Solid Contact up in running, then produced the Snippets gelding for one quick burst in the final stages in a copybook piece of riding with a happy ending.
Cruz paid tributes to the genuine racing manners of Solid Contact and the fine ride. 'This has been a very good and consistent horse to the yard and Eric's ride today was just what Solid Contact needs,' he said.
Legrix was seen in another role in the final race, taking Ever Glory to the lead from his wide draw when it was clear no other rider wanted the role. The Frenchman stole some slow sections early, then slipped his rivals on the circle and Ever Glory never really looked like being caught.