Supreme rises to the occasion
Even Longwah Supreme's most ardent supporters had given up on the four-year-old returning with a win by the time the Chinese Recreation Club Challenge Cup field got to the home turn, but the gelding lifted his game in time to keep his record unbeaten and confirm himself as one of the most promising horses.
'I've beaten John Size and John Moore - there usually isn't much left in these cup races for me with them around,' laughed winning trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai though it wasn't a formality until the line.
With two wins from as many starts last season, Longwah Supreme (Olivier Doleuze) had looked a horse going places and racing fans sent him out a hot favourite for this feature even in a field rippling with real talent.
They got it right where it counted - at the post - but even Doleuze said he felt the sprinter was a forlorn hope on straightening for home.
'At the beginning of the straight, I thought, OK, we will finish fourth or fifth,' said Doleuze. 'But then I give him a smack and then again and he replied very strong. And the further we went, the more he came and on the line he won quite easily. His last 100m was very good and it makes me think that now he is going to need further distance than 1,200m.'
Despite his record here, there is nothing straight forward about Longwah Supreme, with Doleuze noting that 'he still does a few little things wrong' and Chang saying the gelding presents an assignment for the trainer, too.
'You have to treat him like a filly. He is not strong, you could not run him every week,' Chang said. 'He is behaving better this season and has become more mature mentally, but I still have to keep him fresh. I didn't even give him a trial before this because I was concerned it would be too much training for him. Olivier thinks that he might want further now but I will have to sit down with the owner and discuss the programme with all these things in mind.'
Chang was thrilled with the victory going up to Class Two for the first time, relegating Size-trained King Mossman and Moore-trained Captain Sweet into the placings.
Doleuze was circumspect about where Longwah Supreme might be headed and said the gelding's next run would be the real test.
'It was a good field but we have to remember he had 123 pounds - next time when he is in this class with a big weight is when we can think about how high he can climb,' the French rider said. 'He didn't fire up today like he did last season, but he did still hang a little on the turn and I had to correct him. He is still not a motorcycle - you cannot just put him where you want, how you want - but if he takes more time to reach his best, that's OK. There is no hurry and he will tell us where he is going.'
While Captain Sweet (Darren Beadman) was beaten a length in third, he did nothing to dissuade anyone that he is headed for the top grades.
'His first run for nearly seven months, 132 pounds and giving away a big start from that wide barrier? He had plenty against him and still ran a terrific race,' Moore said. 'Darren said he came to win it but just peaked on his run the last 50m.'
The well-backed second favourite Eagle Regiment was a surprise flop, finishing 11th, and Brett Prebble told stewards the gelding had resented racing tight between horses from early on and did not travel comfortably.
The time Longwah Supreme, who scored his third straight victory, clocked for the final 400m