Hong Kong swept the placings in the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) on May 24th repealing a strong challenge from overseas and in particular Japan with Werther (NZ) winning the race for the fifth time for trainer John Moore and Military Attack (IRE) second and Blazing Speed (GB) third.
Rain arrived at Sha Tin earlier in the afternoon and the track was downgraded twice to end up as Yielding and suddenly the international challenge melted away with those runners performing to elite level on Good tracks.
Australian jockey Hugh Bowman, currently riding in Japan until the end of May, changed his plan immediately after the start when there was a charge for the lead and he let the leaders go. As the field progressed into the back straight Helene Super Star (USA) and Brett Prebble had fought off the rest to lead over Satono Crown (JPN) and Zac Purton and Horse Of Fortune (SAF) and Karis Teetan.
Bowman had tracked Lovely Day (JPN) and Joao Moreira into the main straight some four off the rails. Then Bowman sent Werther forward and from the 300m they showed a turn of foot that left the field struggling.
The margin was 2L at the 200m and then it was all the yellow silks of owner Johnson Chen out in front all the way as Werther and Bowman stormed to a 4 1/2L win. Bowman saluted high in the irons for his first international Group 1 win just over a month from his first Hong Kong Group 1 when he rode Werther to win the Hong Kong Derby on March 20th.
The veteran 2013 winner of the race, Military Attack (Oratorio) and Nash Rawiller, were a gallant second ahead of 2015 winner Blazing Speed (Dylan Thomas) and Neil Callan, the market 1 1/4L.
The following Sunday, May 1st, saw the first running of the The Chairman's Sprint Prize(1200m) as an international Group 1 race.
The Hawkes’ trained Chautauqua (AUS) under Tommy Berry scored an historic win to give Australia its first victory at Group 1 sprint level in Hong Kong as well as being the first winner of the race at the international level.
The grey was slow away under Berry, also currently riding in Japan, while up front the pressure was on from the outset with Buffering (AUS) and Damien Browne on the rails with Peniaphobia (IRE) and Matthew Chatwick outside. Down the back straight Chautauqua was nearly 12 lengths behind the field and this did not change as the leaders went at pace towards the turn for the main straight.
Aerovelocity (NZ) and Zac Purton came three wide into the straight and made a challenge outside Peniaphobia while inside Buffering was already under pressure. Strathmore (AUS) and Neil Callan took over with Aerovelocity’s run finished and then Lucky Bubbles (AUS) and Brett Prebble came down the middle of the track to lead with 100m to run.
Back at the rear Berry went to the very outside of the field and he was pushed wider by Divine Boy (AUS). The focus was on the horses in front closer to the rails and then further out to mid-field.
Then it became apparent that Chautauqua and Berry were storming down the outside and Berry calmly guided the multiple Australian Group 1 sprinter to pass Lucky Bubbles just short of the line.
The winning margin was a neck to the rising Hong Kong star Lucky Bubbles (Sebring) and Brett Prebble with Strathmore (Fastnet Rock) and Neil Callan third, the margin 1L. The time was 1.08.69 with the final sectionals in 23.34, 22.15 and 23.20. Chautauqua was clocked at 43.91 for his last 800m with an average of 10.98.
Chautauqua is a five-year-old Encosta de Lago gelding out of the Lion Hunter mare Lovely Jubly. This was his 22 start, 12th win and fifth Group 1 win. He came to Sha Tin after winning the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes over 1200m at Randwick on April 2nd for the second year in succession.
Chautauqua (AUS) and Tommy Berry winning the Group 1 The Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Then it was the turn of Maurice under Hong Kong's leading rider Joao Moreira in the Champions Mile.
Moreira enjoyed an untroubled passage astride the Noriyuki Hori trained bay to become only the second overseas winner of the race after Variety Club (SAF) in 2014.
Settled a handy fourth with Contentment (AUS) inside and clear ground to his outer and tracking the pace-setting Beauty Flame (IRE) and close attendant Rewarding Hero (GB), Maurice eased three wide on the turn for home as the front duo began to toil.
With Beauty Flame mining his last reserves at the 300m point, Moreira shook the reins and Maurice responded with immediacy. Within 50 metres Japan’s hero had quickened ahead and the result was sealed. Moreira saluted the winning post in a time of 1m 34.08s with the five-year-old Screen Hero entire covering the final 400m in 21.79s.
Contentment and Brett Prebble were second and Packing Pins (NZ) and Gerard Mosse third with the margins 2L and 3/4L.
The win was the seventh in succession for Maurice and he was having his first start since a brilliant triumph at the course and distance in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, a race in which, ridden by Ryan Moore, he drove past Hong Kong’s own high-weight, last year’s Champions Mile winner Able Friend. Maurice now has four Group 1 wins on his curriculum vitae with a career record of nine wins from 14 starts.
Maurice (JPN) and Joao Moreira flash past the line in the Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
“I’m extremely happy to have won the Hong Kong Mile at the international meeting in December and to come back and follow up in the Champions Mile today,” said winning trainer Hori. “It’s a pleasure to come here and I’m happy for the win, I’d like to thank Joao for giving the horse a great ride.”
Both runners will maintain, and possibly improve, their world rankings with the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Head of Handicapping and Race Planning Nigel Gray commenting after racing on the performances franking the winner’s places in the top level of the world.
“We hoped they were going to be fantastic races and we were very happy with the fields that were assembled and they have not disappointed. It was really, really tremendous racing to watch,” said Gray.
“The two races were very different in terms of their pace scenarios. As far as the sprint was concerned we had two horses going off a quite a rate of knots which would have suited Chautauqua, But he could not do more than he did flying through in his usual trademark style.
“He was (rated) 123 last year and we gave him 121 for the TJ Smith, but I think beating a field of that quality and in that style it is very difficult to say that he is not performing to his best level.
“As far as the Champions Mile is concerned Maurice was the top-rated horse coming into the race. Pace wise this time he was perfectly placed amongst the first few and he showed a great turn of speed with his final sectional almost exactly half a second quicker than Chautauqua’s. That is not a reflection on Chautauqua’s performance and it was just the different ways the race were run.
“So tremendous speed and acceleration to beat a field that was full of highly rated horses. He was rated 121 last year and I could see him going into the mid 120’s after that performance.
“So a tremendous day’s racing with Chautauqua winning his fifth Group 1 and Maurice maintaining his 100% record in Group 1’s of four out of four in a row, so great racing,” he said.