Sha Tin was a graveyard for favourites on Saturday – only one of the 10 saluted – but it didn’t bother Tony Cruz as the legendary trainer upstaged some more fancied rivals to snare the final two races.
The talented The Golden Scenery ($8) finally broke through for his first Hong Kong victory, unleashing a devastating finishing burst to edge out odds-on pop Packing Victory to claim the Class Three Panasonic 6-Door Refrigerator Handicap (1,200m).
The four-year-old, who won two of his three races in Australia pre-import, had been around the mark in all five of his previous stars but couldn’t quite break through, finishing second in three of them.
That all changed on Saturday though, with Karis Teetan settling him towards the rear from barrier seven before working his way through the field to beat the favourite by a short-head.
The result provided Cruz with a big sense of relief, the trainer blaming himself for The Golden Scenery’s two unplaced efforts to kick off the season.
“He’s a small horse but he’s got a big heart. He’s always been trying very hard,” he said.
“I made two mistakes. I tried running him at the 1,400m at the start of the season – trying to be smart – but he couldn’t get it, so I went back [in distance] and I put the cheek pieces on and he couldn’t handle [the piece of gear].”
Removing the cheek pieces and keeping him at 1,200m has proved an inspiring move, The Golden Scenery finishing second to boom sprinter Master Eight last month and going on to knock off the previously undefeated Packing Victory.
Cruz will stick to the winning formula for his next start before giving him another chance over seven furlongs with an eye on the Classic Mile in January.
“We’ll step back up in trip later on, I’m going to give him one more run at 1,200m and then I’ll see from there,” he said.
“He’s like Ima Single Man, 1,400m will probably be the perfect distance for him. If everything goes right we will try to stretch him but all these Deep Fields I think are only sprinters, I don’t think they get a mile – we will step him up to 1,400m later and then we will see.”
While all honours were with the winner, the Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Packing Victory lost no admirers.
Zac Purton positioned the four-year-old just behind the speed in running but when he pulled out on the turn there was nothing in the tank and he just idled from the 400m-200m.
But Packing Victory picked up again, matching strides with The Golden Scenery in the run to the line – a huge effort in the circumstances.
He looks like a horse who is looking for further so perhaps connections will be regretting their decision to chase a fourth win over 1,200m, rather than stepping up to 1,400m.
Master Hero completed a running double for Cruz in the Class Three Panasonic Thermo Ventilator Handicap (1,400m), Joao Moreira sending him forward from barrier 12.
It proved the winning move with Master Hero ($4.6) sitting outside the early leader Quadruple Double before kicking clear in the straight to beat $2.9 shot Sauvestre with Hong Kong debutant Cobhfield catching the eye in third.