The 2016-17 season will be best remembered for Rapper Dragon’s history-making sweep of the four-year-old series, but the standout Group One performance of the season belonged to Japanese superstar Maurice.
With Hong Kong elevated to Part I of the Blue Book, which is significant for breeding classifications, the Classic Mile, Classic Cup and Derby lost domestic Group One status, while opening up the remaining black-type races to the rest of the world.
That international flavour was reflected with three horses from Japan making successful Group One raids, headlined by Maurice, who made a mess of his rivals in the Longines Hong Kong Cup.
It was a fitting way for the “Beast from the East” to finish his career, having already won the Hong Kong Mile and Champions Mile in 2015-16, along with three other majors in his home country.
Satono Crown (Hong Kong Vase) and Neorealism (Audemars Piguet QE II Cup) were the other winners from the Land of the Rising Sun, with those results sure to encourage another strong assault from the region next season.
The best performed locals were 2015-16 Horse of the Year Werther and Helene Paragon, with both claiming two victories at the top level.
The former won the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, while the latter went to the next level as he took out the Stewards’ Cup and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
There was an even batch in the sprinting ranks, with old marvel Aerovelocity putting his best foot forward in the Hong Kong Sprint, while Lucky Bubbles broke through for his maiden Group One win in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
The veterans also shone at 1,600m with Beauty Only taking out the Hong Kong Mile and Contentment winning the Champions Mile, the race that unfortunately saw the demise of Rapper Dragon.
The Hong Kong Derby hero, who was subsequently named Horse of the Year, died after suffering a broken pelvis in the run, and he will leave a hole that is going to be virtually impossible to replace in the short term.
Already a star, he was set to be Hong Kong’s next big thing, stepping into the spot vacated by Able Friend as the best horse in the jurisdiction.
Speaking of “Big Red”, it was the end of an era as he was sent off to retirement with a ceremony at Sha Tin, as were Designs On Rome and Aerovelocity.
In terms of overseas performances, there was only one Hong Kong winner with Super Jockey relishing the deep sand of Seoul to claim the Korea Sprint.
There were only three horses to fly the Bauhinia flag in Dubai but Not Listenin’tome, Dundonnell (both Golden Shaheen) and Amazing Kids (Al Quoz Sprint) could not make an impact. However, Werther is expected to make the trip next year.
Over in Japan, Beauty Only was solid when sixth in the Yasuda Kinen, while Contentment finished 10th.
Looking ahead to next season and it is likely to be much of the same with Werther, Helene Paragon, Beauty Only and Lucky Bubbles all set to be prominent again, while Thewizardofoz’s dominant win in the Group Three Premier Cup in June means we could see the best of him next term.
When looking for horses who could join that elite bracket two spring to mind, the enigmatic Pakistan Star, who has all the ability but needs to iron out his quirks, and the untapped Nothingilikemore, who couldn’t have been more impressive winning his first four races.