Coolmore maestro Aidan O’Brien put behind him some poor previous form at the Longines Hong Kong International Races to claim the Vase with Highland Reel after a typically powerhouse display from jockey Ryan Moore.
With almost 250 Group One victories, 46-year-old O’Brien already ranks with the greats of racehorse training but eight runners in 14 years at the Hong Kong showpiece had yielded barely a prize-money cheque until Highland Reel and Moore cracked the hoodoo on three-year-old colts.
“I gave that no thought at all about Aidan not winning here before – I don’t care if they are racing on the moon, if Aidan has the right horse he’ll win it,” said Moore, who had a game plan that changed midway through the race. “He gets away well, he’s very professional so I was happy to roll on and make the pace. But when Tommy Berry came around on Harbour Master and wanted to get on with it in the back straight, I had to switch plans and just let him go.” Highland Reel scooped up the leader again on straightening but appeared at the mercy of race favourite Flintshire when he himself was claimed.
“Flintshire is a high class horse who is just hard to beat in these sorts of races and when he came, I thought I was in trouble,” said Moore. “But when he got into a battle, Highland Reel really wanted it today. He may only be a three-year-old but he’s a hardened three-year-old after trips to the United States and then Australia and now he knows what’s required.”
Highland Reel became the first three-year-old colt to win the Vase – although others had been unlucky in the past and two fillies of that age had taken the race – but the race was a victory for the age group all over.
Five-year-old Flintshire finished second but the other three-year-olds, Dariyan and Ming Dynasty, filled third and fourth placings, and the race was a return to the old normal as Europeans cleanswept the locals.
Mikel Delzangles said fourth-placed Ming Dynasty had not helped himself by displaying his greenness: “He didn’t begin that well, he was crazy and pulling – I was never worried that his best runs had been on heavy going because he hadn’t really seen much good ground to race on – but mentally he did not help himself and has a lot to learn.”
John Moore was first home for Hong Kong with Helene Happy Star (fifth) and Dominant (sixth) but could offer little in the way of excuse for what were sound efforts.
Iconic French-trained nine-year-old gelding Cirrus Des Aigles was prominent in running before he finished 10th at his sixth unsuccessful attempt to win here and trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said his future is now under consideration.
“Maybe we will find some soft ground for him in France and still give him a race or two. I don’t think he will be back again,” she said.
Third-placed Dariyan a HK Derby contender?
On a day when John Moore showed off one of his major Hong Kong Derby hopefuls on the international undercard with Australian import Werther’s smart first-up win, the trainer also has designs on the third placegetter in the Vase, Dariyan.
The Aga Khan-owned colt by Able Friend’s sire, Shamardal, did a good job for third to Highland Reel after striking some trouble in the running and Moore’s son, George, was making inquiries to see if the horse was for sale and also whether it could come straight out of quarantine to stay here if a purchase took place.
“I’ll be getting in touch with the Aga Khan’s racing director, Georges Rimaud, and find out if it’s for sale – he’d be a very expensive horse but I think we definitely have a client for him,” said George Moore.
Jockey Club officials said the issue with quarantine was not so much their call but something to be worked out with the government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
However, the situation is understood to be possible and Dariyan would be able to stay in Hong Kong as a Derby prospect if the purchase of the horse was to take place.
John Moore confirmed his interest but said he was leaving the matter to his son to negotiate and concentrating instead on the “new Derby favourite” as he described Werther [Hugh Bowman] after a win by a clear margin at his first local appearance.
“I thought my other horse Victory Magic was the pick of mine in the race today but I had been very happy with how Werther was going in trials and work,” he said. “I worried the 1,600m would be too short and he’d come off the bit when they kicked and be outsped. But he handled it well andhe’d nearly have to be Derby favourite off that performance. I wasn’t disappointed with Victory Magic’s third – he ran well too but the pace just didn’t suit him.”
WHAT THEY SAID
He's turned into a very good horse. When Flintshire came by me, I thought he was in trouble but he dug in."
Highland Reel - Ryan Moore
"Absolutely no excuses, he has run very well."
Flintshire - Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah
"I had a horse on my outside leaning on me the whole way which did not help. Otherwise, I would have been up there with Flintshire."
Dariyan - Christophe Soumillon
"He ran too fresh and did not settle early but he ran well and will be a lovely four-year-old."
Ming Dynasty - Umberto Rispoli
"It was a good run. He just wasn't good enough."
Helene Happy Star - Joao Moreira
"He ran a good race; they just went too slow for him. Tommy put some pace in down the back but the damage was done by then."
Dominant - Zac Purton
" He doesn't have the turn of foot required at this level yet. He is only going to get better."
Preferment - Hugh Bowman
"Unfortunately, he was naughty in the gates. It's the first time he's been ridden back and he's stayed on well in the end."
Khaya - Craig Williams
"The sit and sprint didn't suit him."
Ensuring - Brett Prebble
"He is just not the same horse. It is a shame."
Cirrus Des Aigles - Olivier Peslier
"The stop start pace didn't suit him. He just needs a true run race."
Cannock Chase - Pat Smullen
"I thought I'd give him every chance so I put him on the pace. He's not good enough.
Harbour Master - Tommy Berry
"No excuses. He has run pretty well at this level."
Helene Super Star - Douglas Whyte