Fired-up Moore ends term with all guns blazing to spoil Cruz party
Racing fans have been spoiled in recent years with the thrilling championship finishes in both the jockey and trainer championships, and this season it was the trainers who provided the excitement in a last-day denouement that saw John Moore snatch the trophy out of Tony Cruz's hands.
Two years earlier, Moore had looked home and hosed for his first championship since 1995 when Caspar Fownes produced an extraordinary late finish to overwhelm him so the victory in similar circumstances in 2011 for Moore had a special piquancy. He had already put away the title he most covets - that of leading money earner, passing HK$100 million in stakes for the first time, with three Group Ones among his eight Group race wins, and his HK$106 million finishing tally is second only to the towering HK$113.89 million Cruz posted in 2004-05.
No serious challenge had emerged from Fownes or the reigning king, John Size, and it all looked in Cruz control with just four meetings to run and a gap of seven wins to Moore, whose team had looked too top-heavy in the ratings to win a championship.
But Moore pulled out a late surge to win with nine of his last 30 runners and that coincided with a drying-up of the Cruz reserves as he failed to win a race with his last 38 starters. Four victories on the last day for Moore settled the argument, with Smart Giant putting it out of Cruz's reach when he won the third-last race of the term. It was a sixth championship for Moore, but a credit to his ability to reinvent his stable in the past six seasons.
Though perennially prominent on the ladder, Moore had been looking comfortably held in both win and prize money totals in the years after the turn of the century. But he appears to have made a deliberate, well-calculated and exhaustively-worked move to seek out tried horses in the United Kingdom.
That fresh push seemed to coincide with the acquisition of Viva Pataca for casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun and Moore concedes the champion gelding's achievements gave him leverage to go to other owners and offer to find them something good, too.
Other trainers tried to buy horses in that part of the world, but most of those horses fall under the well-explored and well-sold headings, dumped by some of the smartest training yards in England and Ireland.
Few, if any, of Moore's rivals make his painstaking trips to see the horses first-hand, to come up with young horses with upside. That hard work has lifted Moore to a raft of big features and now a championship title.
At the other end of the roster, former New Zealand champion trainer Paul O'Sullivan landed his 200th Hong Kong winner on the final day of the season. It came as a relief as it was also his 13th win in a season he will want to forget and got him over the line for the Jockey Club's minimum performance benchmark.
O'Sullivan set out to begin the season quietly, then things got out of hand when it took two months and 50 runners to lead in his first winner and his fortunes didn't ever really improve.
There were mixed results for the four trainers based at the Olympic stables, which had been constructed for the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Games - David Ferraris, Sean Woods, Andreas Schutz and Michael Chang Chun-wai.
Chang had his best season yet with 26 wins, Schutz equalled his best with 24, while Woods (18) and Ferraris (19) had disappointing seasons.
In April, Ferraris quashed rumours that he was ready to leave Hong Kong but vented his frustration at the building noise that was disrupting the stables and contributing to 'the worst year of my life'.
While the worst of that particular construction work is over, the new season promises a fresh X-factor in the fortunes of trainers as the refurbishment of the main stables compound at Sha Tin will begin and has the potential to disrupt.
In the hello-goodbye category, we had Alex Wong Yu-on, who retired as a trainer after holding a licence for 24 years and putting 358 wins on the board.
And the club will welcome a new expatriate trainer for the first time since 2006 when formerly French-based Englishman Richard Gibson joins the ranks.