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So much intrigue following the Jockey Club Mile, Cup and Sprint at Sha Tin. The younger brigade have thrown down a challenge to the champions ahead of HKIR next month. Waikuku defeats Beauty Generation. Exultant holds off Furore. Aethero goes bang – @pete2me
There is plenty of discussion about the pecking order in Hong Kong after Sunday’s incredible day of racing. Let’s assess the three contenders for the title of the city’s best horse.
Gee whiz it was a good run.
Over the past two and a bit seasons, the son of Road To Rock has been the shining light at Sha Tin, winning back-to-back Horse of the Year titles, seven Group Ones, four Group Twos and three Group Threes.
John Moore’s gelding went undefeated over an incredible 18-month stretch, stitching together 10 consecutive victories while setting a new Hong Kong record for prize money earned – a whopping HK$87,600,000.
There were excuses when the streak ended last month in the Sha Tin Trophy, but there were none on Sunday.
The usual spark and dominance just wasn’t there and he was beaten fair and square, racing in the manner he prefers. He looked flat.
Typically, Beauty Generation breaks his rivals with gut-busting middle sectionals that leave them with nothing in the tank. His relentless ability to just keep rolling at a high speed during his peak was almost machine-like.
But Beauty Generation is not a machine, he is a horse, and a seven-year-old one at that.
He relinquished the crown as Hong Kong’s best on Sunday. He remains one of the top gallopers here, but he is no longer untouchable.
Having said that, consecutive placings in Group Twos are nothing to sneeze at and he is definitely capable of bouncing back and winning the Hong Kong Mile for a third time. Dismiss his chances at your peril.
But astonishingly, he is not even the stable’s best hope on international day. That status belongs to …
His performance in the Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m) was the stand-out on Sunday.
It was the first serious test of his fledgling career and he passed with (more than) flying colours – running Hong Kong’s best sprinters into the ground.
His time of 1:07.58 was just .08 outside Sacred Kingdom’s long-standing mark from the same race 12 years ago. It’s worth remembering that Aethero did beat Sacred Kingdom’s 1,000m record last month.
What makes it even more amazing is the chestnut gelding is a southern hemisphere three-year-old and he is only just scratching the surface of what he is capable of – he’s only had six starts. There is still more to come physically and mentally. As Moore said afterwards: “the sky is the limit”.
Having a chat to some of the jockeys as they were leaving on Sunday, the overwhelming feeling is he’s unbeatable in the Hong Kong Sprint if he reproduces that sort of effort.
Rival trainer John Size – who had five of the next six runners behind Aethero in the Jockey Club Sprint – had a similar sentiment.
“The winner was too good so if he keeps improving, we’re in trouble,” he said.
If the son of Sebring continues on this upwards curve, in six months he might be the best sprinter in the world, let alone Hong Kong. But that is all ahead of him.
Sunday’s effort was sensational, but it was only his first run at Group level. It’s hard to anoint anyone the best in the jurisdiction without a Group One to their credit, which leaves …
Tony Cruz’s stayer is at the absolute top of his game and he proved it in the Jockey Club Cup.
He came of age in 2018-19, winning three Group Ones, running second in another while adding a Group Three to his resume. In most seasons, that is more than enough to be named Horse of the Year.
The form from last year’s Hong Kong Vase looks outstanding now – with Exultant beating Lys Gracieux (who subsequently won the Takarazuka Kinen and the Cox Plate) and Waldgeist (who went on to take the Prix Ganay and knock off Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe).
But Exultant is no one-season wonder. He put in an eye-catching run first-up and successfully adapted to the tricky circumstances of Sunday’s race.
Stablemate Time Warp set a scintillating pace early and a mid-race move flushed jockey Zac Purton out with about 1,000m to go, but Exultant took it all in his stride.
He hit the front with 600m to go and it looked like he was a sitting duck for Hong Kong Derby champ Furore halfway down the straight.
But the son of Teofilo, who turns six in January, just got down to business and lengthened like a good horse to win with something in hand.
Cruz declared Exultant is the best stayer he has ever trained, he looks perfectly placed to defend his Vase crown and right now, he is the best horse in Hong Kong.
Of course, it could all change on international day, but having spent most of his career in the shadow of Beauty Generation, he deserves some time in the spotlight given all he has achieved.
As an aside, most trainers and jockeys would be thrilled to have an association with any one of these three, so how lucky is Purton? He’s riding all of them on December 8.