In the minutes before Golden Sixty cemented his standing as one of the best horses in the world, there was real tension among the officials on course.
The Vase and the Sprint had been run and won by Mogul and Danon Smash, respectively, and Hong Kong was running out of chances to strike a blow on its biggest day.
Reigning Horse of the Year Exultant couldn’t match his young Irish counterpart and the fact solid but unspectacular veterans Jolly Banner, Rattan and Wishful Thinker finished second, third and fourth in the 1,200m Group One – typically this jurisdiction’s strongest division – says all you need to know about the quality of those ranks at the moment.
Given chances of victory in the Cup seemed slim, the weight of expectation was firmly on the shoulders of Golden Sixty.
On a day when you are showcasing the best of Hong Kong racing, it would be embarrassing if the locals were swept. Officials want the internationals to do well – but not too well.
Thankfully, Golden Sixty stepped up and delivered when it mattered most. He’s a genuine superstar.
His turn of foot is simply devastating – a weapon that solves a lot of problems and puts him a class above.
By giving Japanese star Admire Mars – who finished a length behind Gran Alegria in the Group One Mile Championship last month – and Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia windburn, his position as one of the best horses in world racing is franked.
Golden Sixty looks set to dominate the Hong Kong scene for the foreseeable future – he has panels on his rivals here and that winning streak can extend well beyond 11.
It was the crowning moment for jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, who enjoyed his best day in the saddle on the biggest stage.
The only negative for the likeable 30-year-old on the day was the failure of Classique Legend in the Sprint.
As trainer Caspar Fownes was at pains to point out during the build-up, the Everest winner was never going to be at 100 per cent.
Some punters don’t seem to understand how difficult a task was in front of the talented grey.
He was coming off a peak run in October, had virtually a month in quarantine where his work was limited, he travelled into a completely foreign environment, had to go through his inoculations and be branded and then perform at his best in Group One company.
Only a handful of previously raced horses move to Hong Kong and win first-up every season. None of them have to do it in a HK$22 million feature.
These races are tough enough to win when everything has gone right and it is next to impossible to prevail when the preparation is not ideal.
The ride had nothing to do with the outcome. Classique Legend was in an awkward spot from barrier one and then he had nowhere to go at the top of the straight. Not that it mattered as he wouldn’t have won anyway – it was just not his day.
Fownes was only critical of one aspect of Ho’s ride – the fact he continued to push the horse out until the final 100m. He felt his former apprentice should’ve stopped earlier.
As it happens, the five-year-old pulled up a little lame and connections will give it a couple of days before deciding on the next course of action. He will be much better the next time we see him.
Speaking of suboptimal, thoughts have to go out to Christophe Soumillon, who was forced to watch Normcore – the horse he was meant to ride – take out the Hong Kong Cup from the comfort of his hotel couch. He’s had a brutal six weeks.
The Belgian ace lost the rides on Breeders’ Cup winners of Tarnawa and Order Of Australia after testing positive to Covid-19 and he missed out on two more winners on Sunday – including Hong Kong’s richest race – after remnants from his initial infection delayed his clearance from quarantine.
In cash terms, the wins of Normcore and Lucky Patch were worth a total of HK$1,681,500 to the jockeys involved. Ouch.
Hopefully Soumillon can make up for lost time when he kicks off his two-month stint this weekend.
It’s also worth paying tribute to two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation, who finished his sensational career with an honest fifth in the Mile.
The old champ is still competitive but he’s lost a few lengths this season and the Kwok family have done the right thing by retiring him to Living Legends in Australia.
BEAUTY GENERATION tried his heart out again today.— Beauty Stable (@Beautystablehk) December 13, 2020
We are so proud of our champion that will now retire to @LivingLegendsAU.
8 x Group 1 wins
2 x Horse of the Year
HK$105,000,000 the highest prizemoney earner in HK history
We will miss him here in HK
Enjoy retirement big boy pic.twitter.com/ktt70NSugd
Beauty Generation bows out as the all-time prize money earner in Hong Kong with a tick over HK$106 million, with eight Group Ones among his incredible record in the city of 18 wins and 10 placings from 34 starts.
It seems fitting the horse who carried the reputation of Hong Kong racing on his back for three seasons finished up on the day the new banner horse officially announced himself to the rest of the world.