Cup victory buys discard his ticket to Royal Ascot
De Kock nets second QEII trophy in three years with Archipenko
'Bring on Royal Ascot' was the call from Mike de Kock, the increasingly potent force in international racing, after lifting his second Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup in the space of three years with Archipenko.
The HK$14 million Group One victory against quality opposition from both hemispheres completed a magnificent remake by De Kock and his team of Archipenko, who had been a cast-off from the Aidan O'Brien yard at Ballydoyle in Ireland.
It was the second time in five years that an ex-O'Brien horse had been the QEII hero, with John Size having conducted a similar transformation on River Dancer, who scored an upset win at more than 50-1 in the race in 2004.
The win was a huge result for De Kock because the primary owner of Archipenko is Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, first cousin of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the prime minister of Dubai. And like so many members of Dubai's ruling family, he's a passionate racing fan.
Mohammed bin Khalifa has owned the past two winners of the UAE Derby, both trained by De Kock, and Archipenko was only his second Group One winner, following Perfectly Ready in the Goodwood Handicap in Australia.
'I am very, very happy to get this result and Hong Kong has been very good to us,' he said. 'I am also very thankful to Mike de Kock because my success in racing has increased enormously since I have been involved with his stable.'
The win continued a huge run at racing's ultimate level for jockey Kevin Shea, who also landed the US$5 million Group One Dubai Sheema Classic for De Kock, on Sun Classique on March 29.
De Kock said Archipenko had not been rated by his previous trainer and was largely used as a pacemaker in races for more favoured stablemates.
'He's taken a while to come our way and, slowly but surely, the penny's starting to drop,' De Kock said. 'I think he should have won the Dubai Duty Free but he made his own problems by not taking a gap when it was presented to him.
'That sort of thing is only inexperience, and he was better again today.'
The South African horseman has made a huge impact on the QEII, running second with Greys Inn (behind Vengeance Of Rain in 2005), before winning it the following year with Irridescence, who led throughout under Weichong Marwing.
'We love coming to Hong Kong and Hong Kong has been great to us,' he said. 'The facilities here are second to none, the administration of racing is top class and the hospitality is always first-rate.'
While De Kock has yet to have a runner at the Cathay Pacific International Races in December, that could change this year.
'We are getting ourselves a set-up in the UK at present, so that will be a big help in terms of getting horses ready to come here in December. Having runners at your big meeting is something we'd very much like to do,' he added.
Shea's ride on Archipenko was a cracker, moving the Kingmambo colt quickly across from his wide barrier into a trailing position, getting cover from Japan's Matsurida Gogh.
As soon as Shea produced the four-year-old at the top of the straight, there was only going to be one winner, with Archipenko ultimately hitting the line 13/4 lengths clear of French-trained outsider Balius (Olivier Doleuze), with Viva Pataca a labouring third.
De Kock said Archipenko would now head for Royal Ascot in June, where an assault on the Group One Prince of Wales' Stakes over 2,000 metres awaits.
'I still think this horse is on the way up,' De Kock said. 'He's still doing things wrong through inexperience and immaturity. I truly don't think we've got to the bottom of him yet at all.'