Happee does the trick for Hong Kong
Cruz's charge puts in gutsy performance to land Hong Kong Macau Trophy
Simple, old fashioned fitness was the telling point as reigning champion trainer Tony Cruz was the man to strike back for Hong Kong and take the season's reverse interport race with Happee Owner in yesterday's Hong Kong Macau Trophy over 1,400 metres.
Macau-trained Redwood Falls had won the first interport at Taipa in March, giving Macau runners a third win from the five races staged, but Cruz claimed his third interport as Happee Owner (Felix Coetzee) came back from a Derby preparation and was just too tough.
While most punters considered a Hong Kong runner would win, most believed it would be the John Size-trained Danacourt (Douglas Whyte) but it was all about fitness as Happee Owner held off the odds-on favourite, who scraped in for second only narrowly over Macau Derby winner, St Moritz (Craig Williams).
Despite gate 14, Coetzee had Happee Owner across and travelling coolly outside the leader in the run, while a fresh Danacourt fought for his head every time other runners made contact with him back in the pack.
'I'd get him back settled and the horse on his outside would brush him and up would go the head again,' said Whyte.
'He still picked up and I thought he'd win when he came at Happee Owner but he was just too new under the big weight.'
There was nothing new about Happee Owner, though.
While Danacourt was resting mid-season, recovering from a virus, Happee Owner had raced six times during the lead-ups to the Derby and then the 2,000m of the big event itself, so he was certainly not short of miles in his legs when Cruz turned him towards yesterday's race.
'He had freshened up beautifully and his final gallop was really very good,' said Coetzee.
'I couldn't quite believe what a perfect run we got from barrier 14, though. The plan was to go forward and be in the first five.
'He's quite an aggressive horse so I woke him up with a bit of a warm-up behind the gates, he jumped out quickly and got straight into the right spot. From there I was very happy - he's so fit, I could choose when I wanted to press the button and I knew he'd keep going. In the races he has won so far he has been in front and fought off everything that has come at him. He is very tough.'
It may signal a return to shorter events for Happee Owner, who finished a creditable sixth in Viva Pataca's Derby but just found the distance beyond him.
'I didn't ride him there but he seemed to be a little one-paced at the Derby distance,' Coetzee said. 'He feels to me like 1400m to 1600m is probably his right distance - he shows a bit more dash and is still very strong.'
Danacourt was selected in the Group One Champions Mile next weekend when the field was declared last Wednesday, but Size said he would sleep on a final decision despite yesterday's strong first-up effort.
'He was on their heels in the run today, came to win it but just got tired the last bit and he was probably entitled to get tired,' Size said.
'It was his first run for five months and, if you recall, he was beaten first-up last time. I don't know yet whether he'll take his place next week until we see how he comes out of this - obviously he wouldn't run if this race has knocked him about at all - but we'll see in the next couple of days. Actually, there isn't a lot left for him this season if he doesn't run next week,' Size added.
Former Darwin trainer Steven Brown has made his mark in the past year in Macau, winning the Derby twice, and was thrilled with the performance of St Moritz (Craig Williams) as he tackled the toughest event of his life yesterday.
'I'm stoked. Very excited. I'm thrilled to come over here and run such a good race but would been so nice to win,' said Brown.
'It's no good looking back, but I had thought about putting blinkers on him today and didn't and Craig got off and said St Moritz wasn't fully concentrating when he had horses all around him today. The blinkers might have made the difference - he was only beaten a head - but anyway I'm very happy. And it has really whet my appetite for next season's Hong Kong/Macau races,' he added.