So who is the real Beast from the East now?
Much to the disappointment of the home fans, the title changed hands in a Sha Tin showstopper yesterday as Japanese star Maurice climbed off the canvas to better Able Friend and take the mantle as Asia’s best miler.
When Able Friend went past Maurice in the straight and the 80,000-plus crowd roared its approval it appeared for all money as though John Moore’s star gelding had a second straight Longines Hong Kong Mile in his keeping.
Despite the din, Able Friend’s jockey Joao Moreira claimed he heard his rival Ryan Moore remark on the eventual victor, “Gee, he is a good horse, isn’t he Joao?” as he zoomed past and the local hero put nearly a length on the Noriyuki Hori-trained four-year-old.
It was Maurice who finished the fight better, though, showing extraordinary courage to claw his way back and win.
Able Friend came into the HK$23 million race under an injury cloud, mildly lame with a sore off-fore hoof on race morning, but John Moore’s Horse of the Year was cleared to run.
It was obvious that Able Friend didn’t finish off the way he can, but what was also abundantly clear is that Maurice, unbeaten in six starts this season - including three straight Group One mile affairs - is a tenacious and talented racehorse that seems bound for even bigger things.
“When Able Friend went three parts of a length up on me, I just couldn’t go with the big horse,” Moore said. “But my lad seized the race. I think he is a very good horse.”
Able Friend faded on his run so much he was also beaten home by Giant Treasure, but the five-year-old hung out in the way sore horses tend to do, and while not making excuses, both Moreira and trainer Moore came away proud.
Nor was Moreira blaming the check he copped from Maurice 200 metres after the start, when Moore shifted in to find a two-wide spot, and in the process picking up a four-meeting suspension.
“That didn’t affect the result at all,” Moreira said. “But he was running out at the end - that means he may have felt the problem he had.”
It had been 10 years since a Japanese horse had won the Mile - in fact, since Hat Trick’s win in 2005, no other foreign horse had won as a succession of local champions made the race Hong Kong’s own.
It was Hori’s first international day win after four attempts with stayer Jaguar Mail, and the quietly spoken trainer didn’t offer much on where the horse may head next year.
“This is my fifth visit to Hong Kong and I sent my horse here in great condition - everything went as planned,” he said.
“Now I will talk to the owner about Maurice’s future.”
Able Friend’s stablemate, Secret Sham, again made the running, as he did in the local lead-up, but he ran along at moderate sectionals and according to the winning rider, a faster pace would have helped Maurice more.
“He really dug in the last furlong and showed plenty of heart. A stronger pace would have been better for him,” Moore said.
“I think at Kyoto in the Mile Championship he was slightly more impressive on the day but he’s had to travel here,” the jockey said.
“The Mile Championship was his first run for a long time and he has backed it up three weeks later.
“He’s a very good horse and the race in Kyoto is always a very hard race and he’s probably slightly underrated on what he’s done. He’s a top-class miler,” Moore said.
Able Friend will bounce back, says trainer John Moore
John Moore isn’t concerned about the immediate future for Able Friend after a day of drama surrounding the horse’s soundness and a subsequent third placing as odds-on favourite in the Mile.
Able Friend has been troubled by various ailments over the past 18 months, including setbacks at the start of this season and last, and of course was a notable flop when finishing unplaced in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
Moore said yesterday’s lameness was a minor issue, not connected with the previous problems, and most likely caused by a shoeing issue.
“We look forward to the Stewards’ Cup,” a positive Moore said post-race, referring to the Group One late next month. “We will have him back on track soon, I’m sure.”
Stewards announced on race morning that Able Friend was suffering from “a moderate pulse in its right front foot and associated mild foot lameness”.
Able Friend was cleared to run after another check at midday but both Moore and jockey Joao Moreira felt it was soreness that might have been kicking in late when the big chestnut gave up the lead late in the feature.
“He was running out at the end, that means he may have felt the problem,” Moreira said. “I’m proud of how my guy performed under the circumstances.”
Moore said his first inkling that there could be a problem came after Able Friend’s gallop on Thursday, and was likely to have come from when the horse was last fitted with shoes.
“He was shod on Saturday morning, as usual,” Moore said. “Then on Thursday after the gallop he probably accentuated whatever the problem was and he was starting to get a bit sore.
“We whipped the shoe off at the stage and I even pinched it myself and said there’s the problem in his off-fore foot.”
“I think it made a difference because he hung out, which he doesn’t usually do, and if there’s any excuse to be offered he was under a cloud. He was only beaten a length, but still it’s disappointing. He moved up to run past Maurice and just stopped.”
WHAT THEY SAID
“I’m very pleased for the horse. That race in Kyoto is always very hard to win, and he’s backed it up three weeks later. I think he’s maybe been a little underrated, but he’s a very good horse and he showed it today.”
Maurice - Ryan Moore
“We tried to get him to jump well. I thought Gerald [Mosse] would go in front. I thought I would have a great run but unfortunately I was one position too far back and when I came into the straight I was trying to come through horses. He got the gap and went through quite well. We were beaten by one of the best milers in the world. It was a great run.”
Giant Treasure - Christophe Soumillon
“He got to the front and just flattened out in the last 100 metres. I don’t know why.”
Able Friend - Joao Moreira
“I was hoping he would hold on in the closing stages but he couldn’t. Whether the foot issue was a factor, I don’t know, but he had three veterinary checks this morning which wasn’t easy.”
Able Friend - John Moore, trainer
“I was happy with her effort. She tried very hard but the others were a bit better on the day. It has been a long season for her.”
Esoterique - Pierre-Charles Boudot
“He ran well. He gave me a good kick but typical of these races he’s probably run sixth beaten two lengths, it’s that competitive.”
Contentment - Nash Rawiller
“He ran very well but not as well as I expected.”
Beauty Flame - Gerald Mosse
“He was tense in the starting gate and travelled further back than expected. He was then boxed in and came through but it was too late.”
Danon Platina - Sakae Kunieda
“I had the best run of all time and he had every chance.”
Rewarding Hero - Hugh Bowman
“He did not jump well as last time in Japan but I still could take a position. After turning for home he did not have a clear run, but once he found the room he was tired.”
Fiero - Mirco Demuro
“He had a good position and got a nice run but just wasn’t good enough for these kind of milers. He’s more of a distance horse.”
Romantic Touch - Neil Callan
“He needed a bit of cover, but I was caught three wide and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was happy enough with him but he just got a bit wound up before the race. We knew it would not be easy.”
Toormore - James Doyle
“He was very keen. He’s had a long year and a hard season. He’s better with cut in the ground but today the ground felt too quick for him. He was hanging as well up the straight. He just wasn’t himself today.”
Mondialiste - Daniel Tudhope
“I had a nice run in front, I think he just found the class a bit strong. Not good enough and probably better at the 1,400 metres.”
Secret Sham - Damien Oliver
“The track was too firm for him. He had a chance, coming into the straight on the bit but he did not find anything.”
Red Dubawi - Andreas Suborics