Michael Chang Chun-wai's Noble Alpha has endured a winless 18 months, but a trip across the Pearl River Delta to a waterlogged Taipa Racecourse yesterday brought out the best in the former German galloper and gave Hong Kong a clean sweep of this year's interport series.
A patient ride from Olivier Doleuze delivered the Macau Group One Macau Hong Kong Trophy to Noble Alpha, who revelled in the heavy conditions.
"Being a German horse he loved the soft ground," Chang said. "And when he raced in Europe he travelled all around the place, up and down the country, and in France and Italy - so he is a good travelling horse and a trip to Macau isn't going to worry him."
Noble Alpha (6.6-1) beat Lucky Jai (13-1) by a neck, with Oakcrest Drive (3.5-1) half a length away in third. The only other Hong Kong entrant, the Tony Cruz-trained Real Supreme, loomed as a threat in the straight after trailing leader Absolutely Win, but flattened out late to finish fourth, his jockey Matthew Chadwick saying he didn't think his horse had handled the ground.
Doleuze carried out his pre-race plan to perfection, dropping out early and then following the right horse - runner-up Lucky Jai - into the race from the top of the straight, only pulling into the clear in the final furlong.
"I had a lovely trip but I made sure I didn't come too early," Doleuze said.
"I waited, and waited, because I knew he would dash quickly, but 1,500m on this ground is right at the limit for him. He has a killer turn of foot. The ground helped for sure, but he also won because he was well handicapped with 122 pounds."
Even though Noble Alpha was able to stretch himself to finish off the 1,500m on a bottomless track, both Chang and Doleuze were certain the six-year-old actually needed to come back in trip to show his best.
"He has been racing over 1,650m on the all-weather track and 1,800m on the turf at home, but we will now try 1,200m on the dirt and shorter trips with him,," Chang said.
Hong Kong horses have dominated the Sha Tin leg of the series since its inception, and filled the first nine places in this year's first leg, but have struggled to win in Macau.
Noble Alpha's victory was only the third for the visitors after wins by Helene Pillaging (2005) and Joyful Winner (2009).