Buddies led from barrier to box in the Celebration Cup (1,400m) to give trainer Tony Cruz and jockey Matthew Chadwick their first Group victory together in more than five years at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The master handler and his former apprentice have enjoyed plenty of feature-race success over the journey – most notably with multiple Group One-winner California Memory – but they had been in somewhat of a drought as a combination with the most recent one coming in the Group Three Sha Tin Vase with Peniaphobia in May 2016.
That all changed in Sunday’s Group Three as Buddies turned around his form and shocked fans, most of whom had piled into Caspar Fownes’ Hong Kong Derby champion Sky Darci.
Chadwick assumed Buddies’ customary position at the front of the field as soon as the gates crashed back and he simply ran his rivals off their feet in the first Group contest of the new season.
The Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Tourbillon Diamond hit the line nicely to grab second while Sky Darci managed to snare third, with the odds-on favourite not finding much room in the straight.
While punters were surprised with the result – Buddies jumped at $24 – Cruz was optimistic about his chances heading into the race.
“Not really a surprise because I expected to be up the front. I expected him to lead this race and, on this track today, I think it was an advantage. He had a light weight, so I got the right jockey on him,” Cruz said.
“He’s a good front rider, is Matthew Chadwick. It was not a big surprise to win it. I expected him to run in the first four. Last season, he ran fifth and this year he is much fitter for the race. This horse has won by leading before, he’s an honest horse but I know he is at his peak today.”
Matthew Chadwick hits 400 winners 1,765 days after his 300th: ‘I’ve been punching at the bag for a long time’
The six-year-old, who has now won eight of his 29 starts, has typically found life a bit too tough in these features but with the track seeming to favour those on the pace during the day, everything came together.
“It was fairly simple – we had one plan [and that was] get to the front and we got there pretty easily with the light weight. I was able to give him a breather and he kicked hard in the straight,” Chadwick said.
“I thought once I got there they wouldn’t take me on with the light weight. The ground seems to be getting a bit faster, it suited us today and he kept running.
“He’s improved from his first run so we’ll just have to wait and see [what the future holds] but fingers crossed [he can win more Group races].”
Buddies relishes the 1,400m circuit at Sha Tin – four of his wins have come at the course and distance – but given there are not a lot of races at that trip for horses with triple-figure ratings, it makes programming a challenge.
“A mile is too long for him, 1,200m is too short for him,” Cruz lamented. “But I don’t have an option at 1,400m, so [for his next race] I’ll go to the 1,200m race on October 17.”
It was the first of a double for the trainer, who also tasted success with Master Hero in the Hing Man Handicap (1,400m).
Like Buddies, Master Hero rolled forward from the outset and kept kicking to give star rider Joao Moreira a victory on his birthday.
“That’s what we’re here for, to ride winners,” the reigning champion jockey beamed. “The horse didn’t have everything his own way. He had to face the breeze. He didn’t let us down.
“I’ve had faith in this horse for a long time and the trainer and his team have done a fantastic job to get this horse to resume in this way.”