Veteran Fellowship comes of age
Trainer Paul O'Sullivan was half a world away and Zac Purton was over the moon as Fellowship claimed a deserved Group One prize in yesterday's HK$8 million Stewards' Cup to give Purton his biggest Hong Kong victory.
O'Sullivan was in New Zealand, preparing for the Karaka yearling sales that begin today, but paid tribute to the honest courage of Fellowship and the patience of owner David Sin Wai-kin.
'Leading up to the international races in 2008, Fellowship had a setback - nothing major but enough that I put the question to the owner whether he wanted to push on to the Hong Kong Mile or miss it,' O'Sullivan said.
'It's not easy to bypass the chance to run in an international race but Mr Sin said to do the best thing by the horse. We took him out of the race and I reckon that the owner reaped his reward in the Stewards' Cup by taking a long term view.'
Fellowship and Purton finished runner-up to Good Ba Ba in the same race 12 months ago as well as third in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup and the recent Hong Kong Mile, but few could begrudge the seven-year-old his big moment.
'I've trained better horses in my career, but I've never had one more genuine and honest than Fellowship,' said O'Sullivan.
'I reckon he's probably the best 1,500m horse in Hong Kong. That last 100m always seems a long way.'
And so it was again yesterday, with Fellowship travelling well in the fast tempo before launching a serious sprint to hit the front, as he had in the Hong Kong Mile in December only to be run down late in the race.
'When they ramped up the speed, that really suited me because Fellowship can get on the bit,' Purton said. 'He relaxed beautifully and I thought I had it won when he hit the front but in the last 50m, he pricked his ears and thought it was all over.
'I thought 'not again' and had to get busy on him to make sure he kept going. I've had a few Group One placings here but it's nice to finally get that out of the way and win one.'
The race took on a different look almost as soon as the gates opened, with Brett Prebble taking Sight Winner forward from a wide draw to grab the early lead and make Egyptian Ra work to find the front after taking his usual few strides to get mobile.
It was a move that later earned Prebble a two-day careless riding ban and a HK$40,000 fine, but once Egyptian Ra did get there, he was not allowed a soft time and the race set up for the back markers to fight out the finish, with the placegetters occupying three of the last four positions in running.
The exception was Collection (Darren Beadman), who was back in the right spot at the rear, but failed to mount any sort of challenge before running 10th.
'We had him scoped and there is no blood or mucus, the horse seems fine,' said mystified trainer John Moore.
He added: 'All I can say is that his programme is unchanged and he'll go to the Gold Cup [February 28] next start.'
Punters had boiled the race down to a match in three between Good Ba Ba, Egyptian Ra and Collection, but that idea was left in tatters at the finish.
'He had too much to do getting so far back like that,' said trainer Derek Cruz after Good Ba Ba failed to make it three Stewards' Cups on end in finishing third. He produced his big finish but there was just too much ground to make up. I'll talk to the owner now but Good Ba Ba may go to the Gold Cup.'
Also Gold Cup-bound will be Thumbs Up, who delighted trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing with his second placing.
'Even though the horse can stay, he doesn't get enough practice at 2,400m here so I think that 1,600m to 2,000m is really his best distance range as a result,' he said. 'A great run.'
Percentage the Paul O'Sullivan-trained Fellowship wins from the total prizemoney - HK$8 million - for the Stewards' Cup: 56%