The world’s best horse of 2003 Falbrav bowed out of racing with a stunning international win at Sha Tin and 13 years later, the HK$25 million Longines Hong Kong Cup sets up for Japanese star Maurice to do likewise.
In fact, there are two possibilities of a winning bow in the race as 2015 Hong Kong Cup winner A Shin Hikari (Yutaka Take) will be out to repeat last year’s amazing victory before heading to stud as well, but the more reliable Maurice (Ryan Moore) looks to hold the upper hand.
There were question marks over Maurice when connections elected to switch him to being a 2,000m horse this year at a time when, with no Able Friend to worry about, he had looked well nigh unbeatable at 1,600m.
It seemed an even more risky ploy when the son of Screen Hero was defeated at his first attempt on the distance in the Group Two Sapporo Kinen in August.
He had a wide gate and the extra variable of a track that may have been slightly rain-affected but he did come to win and the race and stablemate Neorealism fended him off quite comfortably.
There was talk he might revert to the Hong Kong Mile again as his end of year target but connections stuck to their knitting, ran him again at the 2,000m trip in the Tenno Sho Autumn at the end of October and the five-year-old scored.
He was assisted by a very tough trip around for the runner-up Real Steel, but Maurice comfortably beat the rest and did enough in a strongly run race to confirm that he ran the 2000m out.
Today’s race will have the same leader, A Shin Hikari, so a solid pace is likely but that can even play into Maurice’s hands as A Shin Hikari will open the field up fairly early and ensure that barrier eight, from what can be a tricky start, will present no problem.
Moore should be able to sit the favourite in the first five or six and switch him off to save Maurice for his final surge.
But that isn’t to say this is a cakewalk. When A Shin Hikari led in Tokyo last time, he was always attended closely by other runners, unlike the scenario at Sha Tin 12 months ago when Take rolled along out in his own space two or three lengths ahead of the field. Also, the Fuchu straight is quite tough, uphill and longer than Sha Tin, which is flat and kind.
If Take can replicate last year’s ride on A Shin Hikari, he might take far more running down than he did in Tokyo.