Disappointment all round for HK in Dubai
Hong Kong hearts were broken as the two sprinters carrying the Bauhinia flag were beaten by barriers, in more ways than one, and the fancied trio in the Dubai Duty Free failed to fire on a drama-charged evening at Meydan.
Joy And Fun was left the sole Hong Kong-runner in the Al Quoz Sprint after the surprising late scratching of Eagle Regiment and missed the start as a result of what connections said was a change in the way the horse is handled in the starting gates.
The Derek Cruz-trained sprinter still ran a mighty third, as did Caspar Fownes-trained Lucky Nine, who was forced to chase from the rear after jumping from the widest barrier in the Golden Shaheen.'They didn't really hold his tail like they do in Hong Kong, he sat back on the gates and missed the start,' said Joy and Fun's jockey Brett Doyle.
Doyle switched to the inside rail and Joy And Fun hit the front for the briefest of moments in the second half of the race. But he was swooped on by the fast-finishing Australian mare Ortensia with former Hong Kong-based jockey Craig Williams aboard.
Cruz was shattered after the race, but full of admiration for his beloved veteran. 'It was a bit heart-breaking. He ran very well and was very game,' he said 'It was a little on the short side. If they had held his tail and he had jumped properly, he could have been right there.'
Eagle Regiment had battled lameness issues in the week leading up to the race and failed a late veterinary check.
Winning jockey Williams deflected questions about a possible trip to Ascot with Ortensia, but floated a return to December's Hong Kong Sprint.
Lucky Nine jumped from gate 12, and jockey Brett Prebble got cover, but couldn't run down Krypton Factor, who beat Singaporean champion Rocket Man.
'The barrier has cost him big time,' Fownes said. 'He didn't have a chance to jump and get into an ideal position. In saying that, first time going anti-clockwise, first time at night, it has been a pretty good effort.'
Prebble felt the five-year-old didn't handle the soft Tapeta surface. 'He gave me an awesome kick, but it was hard for him to maintain his running in that going, it seemed very claggy,' he said.
The biggest disappointment of the night for Hong Kong was the failure of the three Duty Free runners, most notably race favourite Ambitious Dragon, who loomed ominously approaching the turn after racing handier than usual, but failed to let down in his usual dominant manner and faded to finish seventh.
'He travelled kindly but when I pulled him out, there was absolutely nothing there,' jockey Douglas Whyte said.'He didn't have that spark, when I pushed the button it just wasn't there.'
The best of Hong Kong's representatives in the US$5 million race was Xtension, a game fifth.
Cityscape, a desperately unlucky second in December's Hong Kong Mile, raced outside the lead and burst away, and Xtension's jockey Jeff Lloyd was left ruing an opportunity to take up a similar position.
'He was sluggish away and got knocked around in the first four or five strides, I got a bump from either side, it shuffled him back, and it cost us where we wanted to be,' he said.
Tony Cruz said California Memory may have had a recurrence of the soreness which revealed itself after his last run, the grey not making his usual dash from back in the field and finishing 13 lengths back in 12th.
'Something has gone amiss,' the trainer said, while jockey Matthew Chadwick added:'He is just not the same horse at the moment.'