'He was there to win the race, but Jim And Tonic is a stronger horse than those other two over that distance'
The morning after the night before, and the hangover of defeat in Dubai was still tangible as the Hong Kong contingent returned from the desert for yesterday's Derby.
Despite the showpiece occasion at home, many thoughts were still focused on what might have been after Fairy King Prawn had victory cruelly snatched from his grasp by Jim And Tonic in the US$2 million Dubai Duty Free.
There was honour but no ultimate glory for Ivan Allan's superstar - though the huge second prize of US$400,000 was more than token compensation for another agonising defeat on the international stage.
Allan was critical of Robbie Fradd's ride on Fairy King Prawn, saying the South African had not followed instructions and had set the horse too big a task by settling him in last place. But a disappointed Fradd found an ally yesterday in Gerald Mosse, who won the race on Jim And Tonic. 'It's a little bit disappointing for any jockey to be criticised like that when he has done his best for the horse,' Mosse said.
The Frenchman said Jim And Tonic and Fairy King Prawn had come into the finish together, but that he had been clearly headed by Fradd's mount, who looked certain to win with 100 metres to run.
'I mean, he went past me, a neck clear of me, he had my horse beaten but his horse got tired,' Mosse said. 'He was there to win the race, but Jim And Tonic is a stronger horse than those other two over that distance and that was the difference.'
Fradd said he had ridden Fairy King Prawn to give him the best chance to run the 1,777m distance of the Dubai event. 'If Ivan thought I was too far back then that's his opinion and of course he is entitled to that opinion,' Fradd said.
'But I rode him to try and get the distance and I don't think he ran it out. I don't think that Fairy King Prawn is as effective once he goes beyond the mile.'
Fradd, who had lost in similarly agonising circumstances in the Hong Kong Mile three months ago when just held by Sunline, could hardly believe his hopes had been dashed again.
Allan said: 'If you can't win then second best is okay. He ran right up to his best and showed he could handle the trip as well.'
Despite his defeat, Fairy King Prawn ensured that Hong Kong played its part on a night of top-class international racing, watched on course by an estimated 60,000 and on television around the world by an audience estimated at 220 million.
Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman Alan Li said: 'I'm very happy with Fairy King Prawn's run. He ran a fantastic race and I'm very happy that he has managed to gain his revenge on Sunline.'
The Club's senior handicapper Ciaran Kennelly said: 'It was a very pleasing performance. The first three horses ran according to their form at the Hong Kong International Races last December. It's good that their ratings have held.'
The Duty Free was the best event of the whole show as Jim And Tonic, Fairy King Prawn and Sunline lived up to their top billing with a thrilling three-way tussle. Cries of 'Go on Robbie' rose from the Hong Kong followers gathered in the paddock and their hopes appeared about to be fulfilled as Fairy King Prawn reached the front in the last 100 metres before Jim And Tonic fought back to regain the lead three strides before the post.
Pace was a big factor in the Duty Free, with Sunline fading close home after pulling strongly in the early stages when taken on for the lead by Slickly. But the early tempo - or rather the lack of it - was an even more crucial factor in the disappointing displays from Allan's other two desert raiders - Daliapour and Indigenous - in the Sheema Classic.
Both were prominent until the top of the straight, but speed rather than stamina was the order of the day and Allan's pair were unable to match strides with the swoopers. In the end, Japanese veteran Stay Gold scored by a nose from Fantastic Light in a time - two minutes 28.23 seconds - more than half a second slower than Fantastic Light recorded on a deader surface when winning the race last year.
Johnny Murtagh, who rode Daliapour, said: 'He was very disappointing and a slow pace did not suit him at all.'
Indigenous' owner Louis Pang was still proud of his horse, saying: 'He tried hard as always. The slow pace didn't help, but I'm not too disappointed. He is getting on in years now.'
Overall, top honours went to the United States challengers. They took the US$6 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, with Captain Steve and also had the easiest winner of the night in ace sprinter Caller One in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Captain Steve, who won by three lengths over Japanese raider To The Victory, gave California-based trainer Bob Baffert his second World Cup success following Silver Charm in 1998.
Caller One laid claim to being the world's top sprinter as he annihilated his rivals in the 1,200-metre dirt race. The James Chapman-trained four-year-old powered clear to score by five lengths, and the trainer said: 'I have never been more confident before a race than I was tonight.' Jockey Corey Nakatani added: 'If this horse gets to do what he wants to do, he is awesome. Without a doubt he could take on anything.'
Macau's challenger Gold World Winner trailed in last but, as with the Hong Kong team, the race left thoughts of what might have been. Active Bo Bo, the number one challenger from Macau, had to be withdrawn earlier in the week but on the evidence of Saturday's result he may have been capable of making the frame. On his prep run in Dubai, Active Bo Bo had scored a narrow victory over top European sprinter Nuclear Debate, who finished fourth behind Caller One.
Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation landed two victories with Express Tour in the UAE Derby and Festival Of Light in the Godolphin Mile, but the home-based team were largely overshadowed in the big races.
Even so, Sheikh Mohammed was delighted with the night's events, saying: 'Dubai is now becoming the centre of worldwide racing, and a centre for racing excellence. The Dubai World Cup will get better and better each year and further establish itself alongside the great races in the world.'
Away from the glamour and glitz, though, the occasion was marred by a series of organisational problems which marred the big night. The impressive new Millennium Grandstand was open for business after a round-the-clock effort all week to make sure it was finished in time, but the evidence of the frantic building work was still around and there were complaints about the viewing facilities. There was also chaos in the press centre in the stand when the telephone system failed, leaving the world's media with no phone, fax or modem lines.