PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am

Eighty-thousand people pack into Sha Tin to witness New Zealand champion mare Sunline (inside) defeat local hero Fairy King Prawn in a pulsating running of the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile. A top-class field is assembled, but the race will be remembered for their great duel down the home straight in one of the most dramatic finishes Sha Tin has seen.

From the off, Sunline comes out of the gates quickly and Greg Childs swiftly settles the hard-pulling mare at the head of the field. These front-running tactics ensure a furious gallop which leaves Fairy King Prawn, from an unfavourable barrier 13, trailing in the early stages. But the latter makes up ground and with 400m to go, Sunline begins to tire. She dips her head just as Fairy King Prawn starts to rally, making up four lengths inside the last 200m. Childs throws everything at Sunline and the gutsy mare just scrapes home by a short-head from Fairy King Prawn.

One more stride and the placings could have been reversed. Sunline's joint-trainer Trevor McKee feels justifiably satisfied in the mare's all-the-way win, particularly after her poor run in the Hong Kong Cup the year before, 'We do feel vindicated ... as we had a point to prove from last year,' he says.

Childs also pays tribute to Sunline by hailing her as 'the best mare in the world', but confesses the front-running ploy very nearly ended in disaster if it wasn't for the mare's courage. 'We were able to cross early. I let her slide and then put the brake on. But I was hanging out bad for that line to come. I'm absolutely elated.'

For Fairy King Prawn, his connections are naturally disappointed by his close second, but admit that a better horse beat them on the day. After Sha Tin, Sunline races on for another two seasons. In her final season of 2002, she races seven times for five wins which comprised four Group 1s in a row. Her last race is in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, Victoria - a race which she had already won twice. At the age of seven, she is beaten by less than three lengths into fourth place by Northerly.

Despite that, her place in equine immortality is already secured. She was crowned New Zealand's Horse of the Year for an unequalled four years in a row, and was three times the Australian equivalent. In addition, she remains the leading stakes-winning mare in Australia and New Zealand with record earnings of NZ$14 million in prize-money. She is also the first horse to be inducted into Australia's Racing Hall of Fame whilst still racing. As a brood-mare in New Zealand, she is currently in foal to another champion, Rock of Gibraltar.