John Moore's boom horse, Happy Zero, returned from his summer break in yesterday's Sha Tin Sprint Trophy with a last-to-first win and a message for the established top sprinters that there is a new kid on the block.
While many expected Happy Zero (Weichong Marwing) to return with a victory and he was heavily supported in betting, most if not all of his backers would have gladly taken their money back at the 400m when the Danzero five-year-old was last and under pressure in the high-speed contest.
The only man who wasn't concerned was Marwing.
'I always anticipated he would be off the bit in this race. He had only run at 1,000m once last season - at his first start - then John stepped him up to 1,200, then 1,400m and he was strong at those distances,' he said.
'So in his second season, 1,000m was always going to be on the short side, especially with so much speed in the race. I kind of expected they would get him off his feet. At the 400m I was niggling and niggling and I had a look up and saw he was three or four lengths off them and I wasn't worried. I knew once I got serious that he could make it up quickly.'
Now the winner of six of his seven starts, Happy Zero still did a few things wrong but his finishing sprint after lurching towards the inside of the course at the 300m was devastating as he swept home from stablemate One World and Brilliant Chapter, the pair who had been his company at the rear of the pack for most of the race.
'Friendly Gains or something inside or outside him made a movement and Happy Zero shied away and overreacted,' Marwing said. 'He took himself across to the inside but once they're galloping like that in the clear and enjoying it, you don't want to correct them if there's nobody else there and they have full momentum. Overall, he's a lovely ride - I don't like to set high tables for horses but I think he'll do Hong Kong proud. He can only get better.'
The gelding was a A$420,000 (HK$2.8 million) yearling purchase by Moore in Sydney - the same price he paid for Inspiration as a yearling - and the trainer said he got a real thrill out of bringing the horse from that point to winning in Group company.
'I go with my son George to the yearling sales and we pick out these kinds of young horses and it's very satisfying to find them there as babies and bring them up to this level,' he said.
'He needed a slap to get him focused today, but Happy Zero's acceleration was very impressive. And he did it out on the other side, on his own.'
Moore saddled up first, second, sixth (Inspiration) and last (Dim Sum) in the feature and said he wasn't disappointed with the 2008 Hong Kong Sprint winner first-up.
'Take nothing from Inspiration. He had 133 pounds today and these handicap races are tough to win with the big weight. When they come back to terms in the Sprint Trial and the international race, that's when you separate the men from the boys, and Inspiration will be the one suited by the weights then,' Moore said.
'But it's great to see these younger sprinters now coming through and challenging the established ones. Happy Zero, One World - these are the horses who are going to take over from the current champs.'
The horse Happy Zero displaced as favourite, John Size's Tuscan Spirit, loomed as a chance at the 300m but stayed on dourly for fourth, while the three placegetters zoomed past him.
'Even though it's early in the season, I think coming back to 1,000m was an issue,' said Douglas Whyte. 'I probably expected more and when he first let down, I thought we were cooking with gas but he was more dogged than dashing. I think he wants further and maybe 1,400m would suit him better now.'
The only way is up
Number of races the John Moore-trained Happy Zero has registered from seven starts: 6