Eagle Regiment's big leap forward
A French television crew on hand to film a documentary with Olivier Doleuze could not have picked their moment better yesterday as the jockey combined with Eagle Regiment to land popular local trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung his first Group One in the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup (1,000m).
While the miserable rainy conditions may not have made ideal filming weather, Doleuze's natural exuberance would have more than made up for that after Eagle Regiment held off evergreen Joy And Fun (Brett Doyle) and Let Me Fight (Jeff Lloyd) for a minor upset, with crowd favourites Little Bridge, Lucky Nine and Sacred Kingdom all missing out in a blanket finish to the first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series.
For Man, in his 11th season as a trainer after working for John Moore for many years before, it was a taste of Group One glory that the Moore yard regularly samples, and he admitted Eagle Regiment's tilt at the big time was something of a step into the unknown.
'With a rating of 106, he was a long way below Sacred Kingdom on 127, but he is a 1,000m specialist so I told the owner we would come here and try our best and see what happens. We couldn't be confident,' Man said.
The 106 rating will be a thing of the past when the handicapper gets to work on him this morning and so is Eagle Regiment's obvious concentration on the straight course if he is to go on with the job.
In nine previous races, the gelding had run up the straight eight times for five wins and three seconds, with his only failure his 11th of 14 in one attempt around a turn in October.
'Obviously, he cannot just be a straight-track horse or he will have only two races a year to run in,' said a jubilant Doleuze. 'But I have said before that I don't believe stretching him out to 1,200m and around a corner is any problem. There were other things that day - he lost a shoe and he was not the same horse. He has been very good up the straight of course, but just being restricted to straight racing has probably restricted his education, too. I feel there are little things he still has to learn if he is going to be as successful on a turn but he will learn.'
Brett Doyle failed by a neck to add the Centenary Sprint Cup to Joy And Fun's Group Three Al Quoz Sprint win down the straight in Dubai and said the eight-year-old gave his all.
'He ran a cracker. What does he have to do to win one of these big ones? I hope I'm going to be on him again in Dubai this year,' he said.
Behind the placegetters most eyes were on Sacred Kingdom, who gave everyone including jockey Zac Purton more than a glimmer of hope that the great gelding would take his 18th race but, when the pressure went on, the response was insufficient.
'I travelled up like he was going to win - I had a real tickle down my spine before I let him go, but he just couldn't pick up enough to get past them,' said Purton of the fifth placing. 'He's only been beaten a half length, so he has run a great race, I can't knock him at all, but the old Sacred Kingdom would have blown them away from there.'
Little Bridge was a disappointing seventh as the public favourite and he also spoilt the chances of second-choice Lucky Nine (Tye Angland).
'We thought Little Bridge was a good one to follow in the race but Tye was stuck there when Little Bridge wasn't going anywhere and he got shuffled back,' said trainer Caspar Fownes. 'He ran well without luck. I'm not sure what he will do next - I'll probably enter him for the Stewards' Cup, I would like to put him back over a mile again.'
The number of wins Eagle Regiment, who went at odds of 8-1, has registered following his Sprint Cup triumph