Cruz brings out the best in Pillaging
It was finally Hong Kong's turn in the third of the interport races and who else but Hong Kong's home-grown hero, Tony Cruz, should take responsibility for restoring local pride, conjuring a brilliant win from reform school star Helene Pillaging ($113).
The former Australian Group One winner had been winless in 16 Hong Kong races before transferring to Cruz's care this season but is now an entirely different animal, as his Cruz formline of three wins and two placings from five starts clearly testifies.
With Helene Pillaging leading the way home by two lengths, the Hong Kong horses completely stole the show. Goody (Anthony Delpech) stormed home late for a meritorious second, with the ultra-honest My Choice running another cracking race for third.
Favourite Rock N Roll Kid figured best of the six Macau visitors, finishing fourth, a half head behind My Choice. Strategy (Manuel Nunes) finished sixth, beaten 51/2 lengths, but the other four horses finished in the last five placings.
John Didham, who rode Rock N Roll Kid, later said he was 'happy enough' with the run of the Macau Gold Cup winner, but said 1,400 metres was at the very bottom of his distance range.
'Malcolm has kept him nice and fresh for this but, really, he's better over something longer,' Didham said. 'His best win in Macau was at 1,800 metres. Today, I thought I would run second when we came to the home turn and he's battled on really well. Realistically, he was only a few inches away from finishing second. It was a pretty good run, we're not too disappointed.'
The Hong Kong one-two-three will give Macau Jockey Club executives ammunition for a fresh round of negotiations for the allowance Macau horses receive from their Hong Kong counterparts, which was set at 17 pounds last year and was reduced to 15 pounds after Macau-trained Crown's Gift won both friendship races in 2004.
The $2.3 million Hong Kong Macau Trophy was a great result for the C-team but one of their key members, jockey Felix Coetzee, was not involved on pay day. Despite doing so much of the work behind the scenes to turn Helene Pillaging around, Cruz made the decision to put Coetzee on stablemate Raider while engaging Brett Prebble to handle Helene Pillaging.
Cruz said the jockey selection had been 100 per cent his call, explaining that Raider's owner Lucy Lu Kai-yee had a strict stipulation that Coetzee rode her horses. The champion South African horseman undoubtedly wanted to be on Helene Pillaging, whose trackwork had been brilliant, but had to look on from afar as Raider worked home for a late-closing fifth.
Helene Pillaging, who was formerly called Pillaging when trained by Lee Freedman in Australia, won the Group One VRC Sires' Produce Stakes (1,400m) and the $1 million William Inglis Heroic Championship before being purchased by Sir Po-shing and Lady Woo. He was a contemporary of Choisir, who blazed a famous trail to Royal Ascot in June, 2003.
The son of 1987 Golden Slipper hero Marauding was obviously one of those horses who took time to make the adjustment to the Hong Kong environment but the payoff was his steady drop in the ratings, starting his time with Cruz at the top of Class Three.
Prebble handled his part of the bargain perfectly, as he usually does. He bounced Helene Pillaging straight to the front from gate one and then defied Cruz's instructions by surrendering the lead to Glen Boss on outsider Munson.
'Tony had told me to lead and I didn't want to surrender the lead too easily,' Prebble said. 'But Glen looked like he was committed to coming across and I thought it would be better to let him go and take the trail. When the leader wobbled off the fence at the top of the straight, my bloke shot through and it was over in a twinkling.'
Cruz will consider taking Helene Pillaging to Macau to defend his title, as Crown's Gift did for Macau last year. 'It all depends on the timing of the race and the domestic programme here,' said Cruz.