HK stars again show their class on the world stage
Six international races saw the 'perfect result' from a Jockey Club viewpoint, with three Hong Kong victories balanced by successful raids from three of the world's biggest names.
Luca Cumani is the king of international racing, especially in this region. He's the only trainer who can claim to have won the Japan Cup, Hong Kong Cup and Singapore Airlines International Cup, and this year he added the Group One Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup with rising star Presvis.
South African Mike de Kock is no shrinking violet, either. Already a major force on the world stage and the winner of two editions of our springtime showpiece, the QE II, De Kock broadened his horizons to land the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup with Eagle Mountain.
This son of former world champion miler Rock Of Gibraltar also gave a big boost to the credibility of the December international races by coming from the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita. Interestingly, that's precisely what Cumani did with the great Falbrav when he won that memorable Hong Kong Cup under a rampaging Frankie Dettori in 2003.
De Kock and his stable jockey, Kevin Shea, had to share their moment in the spotlight, however, with the shattered team behind Viva Pataca, with John Moore's star enduring a horror transit over the final 600 metres and ultimately finishing fourth, beaten four lengths.
Claims that Viva Pataca should have won were heard frequently and passionately, but a more composed look at the result is inconclusive. On our speed figures, Eagle Mountain returned a rating of 121 in defeating Balius by a relatively soft 11/4 lengths.
Viva Pataca had earlier won the International Cup Trial, rating 120 without ever coming off the bridle, while his speed figure in defeat behind Presvis in the QE II four months later was the same as Eagle Mountain's - 121.
The best performance by a thoroughbred in Hong Kong this season belonged to Good Ba Ba.
The 2008 Horse of the Year was supreme in landing a second Hong Kong Mile in December by 21/2 lengths, returning a speed rating of 124, and was on face value just one point less in scoring the Stewards' Cup in January. If you indulge in the academically questionable pastime of supposing what horses might have run had they been fully extended, Good Ba Ba might have returned a pair of 125s.
The home team assembled their weakest defence in years for the Hong Kong Sprint but the result was the same, with Inspiration (Darren Beadman) defeating Green Birdie (Olivier Doleuze).
Australia's top sprinter Apache Cat, who had won five Group Ones in succession during a monster 2008 campaign, hit what his jockey called a 'flat spot' at a critical stage and battled away for an unspectacular third.
The international handicappers got it 100 per cent right when they deemed Inspiration the weakest winner of the Sprint, but that's an elite list, with All Thrills Too, Silent Witness (twice), Absolute Champion and Sacred Kingdom preceding him.
Richard Gibson returned to take back-to-back editions of the Vase with Doctor Dino, but a more enterprising ride on Cumani's Purple Moon might have gained a different result.
The final international race was yet another upset, with Brett Prebble scoring on Sight Winner for John Size in the Champions Mile on April 26.
Sacred Kingdom missed December through injury, but was back in business late in the term, landing the Sprint Cup before heading to Singapore where he inflicted the first defeat on Lion City idol Rocket Man in the S$1 million (HK$5.2 million) KrisFlyer Sprint on May 17.
A trip to England for the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot followed, but the real Sacred Kingdom didn't turn up at the world's most prestigious meeting. However, the Singapore result was good enough to see him ranked equal-best sprinter in the world, with Australia's multiple Group One winner Scenic Blast.