Fairy tales galore at Snowy Sha Tin
Frankie starred, the Fairy flew and Hong Kong's grip on the Sprint was finally loosened by a children's television character, but the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races were truly international at Sha Tin yesterday as new ground was broken and the clock ticked 'time please' on some old favourites.
Two English classic winners were victorious at the track on the same day for the first time in history as Snow Fairy stamped herself as world class with an 'impossible' Hong Kong Cup win after Frankie Dettori gave his rival jockeys a lesson on the aptly named Mastery earlier and star-jumped twice - just in case anyone missed his trademark Group One celebration.
He was an Italian riding an English-bred for an Arab trainer, truly international, and the 'Turf World Championships' again attracted horses, jockeys and trainers from all points of the compass.
Hong Kong (thanks to Beauty Flash), South Africa, England and the United Arab Emirates provided the four winners - the first time that four different nations had scored victories since 2000.
'I think when we look at the variety of places from which our participants come, we can really say this is an international meeting and this for me was one of the greatest race days ever at Sha Tin,' said Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who celebrated his birthday. 'We had fantastic finishes in all four major races and, in Snow Fairy, we saw a filly who I think is going to become even greater.
'The betting was the strongest for eight years on this day and we are of course happy about that, but it was about more than the cold, hard figures today. Today was about the sport and with more than 50,000 people on course, we saw again that racing is really the most popular spectator sport in town.'
Nine years after Australian horse Falvelon won the Hong Kong Sprint, the local grip on the race was finally broken by South Africa's J J The Jet Plane, named after a children's television show, and even that had a positive spin.
'Medium term, this is very good,' said Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'You don't like to see one country dominate an event and this shows you can bring a horse from anywhere and win if he is good enough,' he said.
The day had its sensations, with favourite Able One, under a cloud with an eye injury during the week, pulled out of the Mile at the barrier when jockey Darren Beadman told the vets the seven-year-old was not striding out fluently. They agreed and the club returned HK$35 million worth of bets to punters.
Both Engelbrecht-Bresges and racing director Bill Nader pointed to the rising turnover of the international events themselves - once the weak point of the day. 'There was a time that people were wary of betting on the international races themselves as they did not know the horses, but our expanded simulcasts of overseas races during the year, the effort we have made to bring as much information to the customers as we can; it's all gaining traction,' said Nader.
But in the background there was an element of the march of time, too. 'He tried his best but I think he's just getting old. He's still my hero,' said trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai after Sacred Kingdom was a brave third in the Sprint he had won twice before but had to bow to younger horses.
And two other international day stalwarts in Good Ba Ba and Viva Pataca were showing cracks at the seams just over two weeks out from their ninth birthdays - Viva Pataca finished eighth in the Vase and Good Ba Ba, the horse who wowed the world with a third straight Mile 12 months before, was a shadow of his former self and ran 10th. Trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai said he would recommend retirement.