Hong Kong dominates Dubai sprint features in successful international raid
Joao Moreira puts on a demonstration to the world, winning the Al Quoz Sprint aboard Amber Sky and the Golden Shaheen on Sterling City, but the Hong Kong team could not match their rivals in the bigger races
Sprinters carried the day for Hong Kong's assault on the Dubai World Cup, answering the call for multiple wins by bringing home the two short course Group Ones but the longer races proved a back-to-earth experience as the Japanese and then the Godolphin team waltzed off with the biggest money races.
Joao Moreira was one of the stars of the show, landing the Al Quoz Sprint with Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained Amber Sky before making it a double with Sterling City, who beat Rich Tapestry in the Golden Shaheen 40 minutes later in a triumphant Hong Kong quinella.
An incredible three wins beckoned but Hong Kong's fortunes tapered off as the Group One races got longer, with Blazing Speed well beaten a long way from home in the Duty Free, Dominant brave in the Sheema Classic after early interference, and the World Cup a popular home town result for Godolphin's African Story while Akeed Mofeed (fifth) and Military Attack (10th) were never threats.
"I have to be pretty happy with my night - to win two races was fantastic," Moreira said and he was showing all the skills - in front throughout on Amber Sky for Ricky Yiu Poon-fai and the horse's owner, martial arts legend, Sammo Hung Kam-po, then waving his wand across John Moore-trained Sterling City just when compatriot Rich Tapestry looked to have him beaten.
"We have 1,200 horses in Hong Kong and look what we're doing at the biggest meeting in the world," said Moore, after the Golden Shaheen quinella, echoing the predictions he had made on Friday that Hong Kong would win multiple events at the meeting.
Amber Sky was simply too quick over the straight 1,000m in the Al Quoz, holding a neck margin to the line.
"I don't know what to say - I don't even believe it yet," said Hung after a win that was months in planning for Yiu.
"In the mornings in Hong Kong, we have been taking him for long walks, before and after trackwork, doing everything to get him to settle down and keep calm," Yiu said.
"I still remember seeing Amber Sky as a yearling and my first impression was that he would make a two-year-old. But he has just kept improving."
Asked to compare the speedster with other greats he had handled, like Sacred Kingdom and Fairy King Prawn, Yiu said it was not a fair question.
"So far, Amber Sky is a 1,000m straight horse. Those other horses won around the turns, at different distances, so you cannot compare them," he said. "But I'm hoping Amber Sky will continue to improve, learn to handle the turns and run 1,200m in time."
If Moreira's Al Quoz win was anticipated and looked straight forward during the race, Sterling City's win was anything but assured as the sprinter was being cajoled by the Brazilian approaching the home straight.
"This was his first time on the Tapeta, he has never experienced it and the kickback was affecting him," Moreira said.
But Moore was a relieved man when Moreira hooked right on the gelding, moved into clear space and Sterling City launched his finishing sprint.
"Sterling City has beaten Rich Tapestry every time they have met in Hong Kong, but he had won easily here on this surface and I was thinking about that in the run," Moore said. "But we're lucky to have the Magic Man on."
"This is my first win in Dubai and also the first for Team Moore - my son George rode Sterling City in his work here and my daughter, Caroline, told me she would love to strap a horse here and I said Sterling City is a very quiet horse and he'd be perfect."
"I want to mention Henry Plumptre too - this isn't one of the horses I've bought for my owners at the sales. We got him through Henry, and the Lings and I are very grateful."
Yiu indicated that further overseas action may be ahead for Amber Sky - with consideration given to the King's Stand Stakes or possibly Melbourne - while Moore indicated Singapore as the next target for Sterling City, but Royal Ascot may be on the agenda thereafter.
Michael Chang Chun-wai had to settle for second with Rich Tapestry, but was taking nothing away from the winner.
"We had to do a little more this time from the 12 barrier, but he was there to win, the winner was just too good. I am very proud of my horse," Chang said.
In the Al Quoz, veteran Joy And Fun, the 2010 winner of the race, bowed out of racing unplaced but with a typical fighting effort - beaten just over a length for fourth placing - while trainer Richard Gibson said he was not disappointed with Akeed Mofeed's fifth.
"I can't be disappointed with Akeed Mofeed - Douglas Whyte gave him a great ride, I thought he was going to hold on for third but they got to him the last bit," said Gibson.
Moreira said he had not persevered strongly with Blazing Speed when he was dropping out 600m from the post, but had a troubled run on Military Attack and said Dominant (fifth) was caught up in an incident when Mars, reportedly suffering a fractured pelvis, ran off the course and through the outside rail at the first turn in the Sheema Classic.
"Dominant was actually quite good, considering that and the wide gate and he finished very strongly in the straight," Moreira said. "And Military Attack was not happy in the gates, then he got a bump on the first turn and I don't think he enjoyed the kickback on the Tapeta. If he had clear room in the straight, he might have run three or four places closer."