HKIR shrugged off potential negatives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am


Another international week behind us and the event has taken on an inertia of its own, typical of great events everywhere, which seems to override unfortunate absences and which is immune to the lack of a truly special performance.

In years past, the day has often been lifted by the soaring performances of an individual horse, the ooh-ah wins of a Snow Fairy or Falbrav, of a Good Ba Ba or Silent Witness or Absolute Champion, among others.

This time, that was not the case. For while there were reasons to celebrate the victories of Dunaden, Lucky Nine, Able One and California Memory, none could be described as eye-popping or especially notable, other than for winning a rich prize-money race.

The Cup was farcically run, with the participation of the regular European leaders, Ransom Note, who was slow to jump, and Durban Thunder, whose connections appeared to make the odd decision to be wide without cover rather than look for the front.

In the end, a pace more in keeping with a below average Class Four ensued, followed by a sprint from the top of the straight which played to the strengths of the local horses and California Memory in particular, since he was closest to the front. No horse in the race ran remotely close to his best but that is to be expected when the tempo ensured the second-slowest Cup in its history, despite a fast track.

It was a scenario that should not have undone Ambitious Dragon at his best - to have had Irian outsprint him down the running bears witness to the fact that we simply didn't see the real Ambitious Dragon. Perhaps John Moore's observation was borne out: the Dragon had been overcooked in delivering that memorable National Day Cup win two months out from the real grand final and he was unable to deliver anything like that form since. That is not to sell him out as done - Ambitious Dragon gets the chance to freshen up and start again, presumably in the Stewards' Cup, and is still the horse to beat in anything, if his preparation is more soundly targeted.

What looks certain, though, is the manner of the race will put an end to any thought that the international classifications will take too seriously the defeat of 128-rated Cirrus Des Aigles by the Hong Kong horses.

The Vase produced a solid rather than spectacular win for Dunaden, but his performance and that of dead-heat third Red Cadeaux have shone a light on future options for Melbourne Cup runners. It is difficult to escape the thought that Snow Fairy would have been superior but for the physical issues which robbed the day of both her presence and that of European three-year-old Excelebration.

The great story to nine-year-old Able One's win in the Mile papered over the fact that he was fortunate to get home over both Cityscape, who raced four wide without cover throughout, and stablemate Xtension, who was held up behind Beauty Flash and Sichuan Success, who were going nowhere when jockey Darren Beadman probably expected them to give a kick.

Dubawi Gold's close-up fourth was a nod to what we missed in Excelebration, who has been quite superior to him in the UK, while Jimmy Choux looked flat, although trainer John Bary was making no excuses and simply paid the race a compliment by saying that it was a superior grade of competition to the Cox Plate.

And the Sprint played out as expected with a local win, notable for the first northern hemisphere-bred victory, but there were no fireworks, we didn't unearth a new Sacred Kingdom, just sympathised with the march of time and its effect on the old one.

Connections have yet to indicate if the fallen idol will press on domestically but another stalwart of the Hong Kong sprint scene, Green Birdie, has made his last appearance, with his connections electing to stand him down from duty still sound and well if not as effective.

Four standard wins but still the day itself survived. Well patronised by horses, spectators and fans alike, the day all but featured a first hometown clean sweep, yet it carried itself as a serious meeting even without a star turn.

If, as the Jockey Club has adumbrated, prize money is going up, then Sunday's event is going to just keep on building.