Hong Kong Jockey Club officials are hopeful that Japanese stars Maurice and Real Steel will shape up for a rematch in the HK$25 million Longines Hong Kong Cup in December after fighting out the quinella in the Group One Tenno Sho (Autumn) in Tokyo on Sunday.
Ryan Moore was aboard last year’s Hong Kong Mile winner Maurice as he set aside all concerns about stamina and landed his first middle distance Group One win, which should firm up plans to run him in the Hong Kong Cup this year over 2,000m as the final start of his racing career.
“This was perhaps his best performance since the Champions Mile in April,” said trainer Noriyuki Hori. “The Hong Kong Cup or Mile will be next but I haven’t decided whether that will be his last. I will decide watching his condition from now.”
Maurice’s form at the mile had been superb but the entire had won only one of his four previous attempts beyond 1,600m, including a defeat behind stablemate Neorealism in August in the Group Two Sapporo Kinen as a red hot favourite. The soft ground got some of the blame on that occasion but back on firm footing in Tokyo, Moore said the distance had not troubled Maurice this time.
“He’s a very good horse, he’s strong at a mile and very hard to beat. Today I thought 2,000m was probably his best performance,” Moore said. “He’s very strong, he’s got a good turn of foot and he was dominant today. He couldn’t have been more impressive. He has a big heart, big lungs and at a mile felt like he could go further so the horse wasn’t too concerned about the distance.”
Multiple runners from the Tenno Sho (Autumn) hold entries for the December 11 international meeting at Sha Tin but Jockey Club officials said the tentative indications had been that both Maurice and Real Steel, who was very brave after being off the course all the way, would make the trip to Sha Tin.
“Obviously, there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge and a lot to be considered by their connections between now and then but we would be delighted to get Maurice and Real Steel running here in December,” said chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. “They are two of the best horses in the world and the Longines Hong Kong International Races looks an ideal stage for them to meet again.”
Who rides Maurice there could become a bone of contention, though, with Ryan Moore required to ride any runner which Coolmore might have in the race and there has been persistent talk all season that Joao Moreira, who won the Champions Mile on Maurice and rode him in the Sapporo Kinen, would take over the mount again in the Hong Kong Cup.
The 2015 Hong Kong Cup winner, A Shin Hikari failed with a ninth in the Tenno Sho last year before a stunning front-running win at Sha Tin and that pattern would have to be the most encouraging thing out of his failure Sunday, when he led and folded up to run 12th.
“He wasn’t in his usual spirit today. He’s a complicated horse and I hope we’ll do better in our next start,” jockey Yutaka Take said.
Japanese entries for this year’s HKIR hit a record 59 nominations when first stage entries closed last week.