Jet Plane lands on time to end HK's sprint dominance
South African champion J J The Jet Plane overpowered Singaporean sling Rocket Man in a thrilling photo finish to the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m) that ended the locals domination and may have signalled the end of Sacred Kingdom's reign as world champion sprinter.
The international Group One sprint had been won by Hong Kong-based horses for the past eight years, but the moment the two visitors fought off the challenge of last year's victor, Sacred Kingdom, the tides of international sprinting turned.
Trained by Lucky Houdalakis and driven hard to victory by fellow South African Piere Strydom, the unusually named J J The Jet Plane overpowered the two favourites to record an historic win in the Sprint, which has eluded all raiders for close to a decade.
'He's a super talent, this horse. He just has this huge powerful stride and that's what got him home again today,' Houdalakis said. 'J J is just a fantastic racehorse. He proved in South Africa he was back to his best, and it's just such a great feeling to bring him here and win. I can't believe it.'
The South African-bred son of Jet Master also ended the unbeaten run of Australian-bred horses in the Sprint as he stuck his nose down on the line to edge out Rocket Man by a short head, with Sacred Kingdom a brave three-quarters of a length away in third.
'The horse showed his terrific fighting qualities once again. I knew he was going to fight, but it was just one of those races that took all the way to the line to get the edge,' Strydom said.
'To go away to Dubai and the United Kingdom firstly, then come back and win in South Africa was very special, but to now back up and win in Hong Kong is an amazing feat.'
The human highlight of the meeting was undoubtedly the sight of J J The Jet Plane's strapper, Everisto Nyambo, leaping down the grandstand as the result was semaphored, and the Houdalakis camp may need to raise his pay if they are to keep Olympic high-jump talent scouts at bay.
However, the South African's jubilation came at the expense of the Singaporean camp's devastation.
There would be no shared result for trainer Patrick Shaw and jockey Felix Coetzee in the feature event this time, and Rocket Man will have to wait for another day before he claims his first, seemingly inevitable, Iiternational Group One win.
'He had no excuses. He ran his usual super race and was just nailed by one better,' Shaw said. 'He's nothing if not a trier, and Felix came back and said he thought he had the other horse beaten off until the 60-metre mark when he just peaked in the final few strides. It's still been a very successful trip, and we'll head to Dubai next to give him another chance on the world stage before the world comes to us at Kranji.'
Sacred Kingdom loomed as though the winner as they straightened for home, and, despite getting a beautiful trail behind the eventual quinella, was unable to push through the gap.
'Maybe he just doesn't have that 100 per cent acceleration like he used to, but he's still my hero,' trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai said. 'He still ran well, but now he is getting older he might be dropping back from his peak level.'
The last word
'We had a great run. Always travelling well. When we eased out on straightening I was happy to go after Rocket Man early as I didn't want him to get away. My bloke gave me everything and we got there on the line. It's brilliant to win and I really want to thank the owners for being loyal to me as there's plenty of good jockeys here they could have chosen.'
Jockey Piere Strydom, JJ The Jet Plane
'What can I say. We just have to accept it. Thought we had it but he's run so well again.'
Jockey Felix Coetzee, Rocket Man
'Fantastic effort again. It's hard to stay on top forever. He had his chance but just died on his run in last bit. He probably can't quite push himself trough the pain barrier like he once could but he ran super. There's plenty of good domestic Group Ones at least left in him.'
Jockey Brett Prebble, Sacred Kingdom
'He ran very well but perhaps he just wasn't quite seasoned enough to beat these horses.'
Jockey Darren Beadman, Let Me Fight
'Great run. When they backed off the speed mid-race it didn't advance her cause. She found the line. Terrific.'
Jockey Craig Williams, Ortensia
'He's run really well under the circumstances.'
Jockey Ryan Moore, Kingsgate Native