Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan put on a spectacular weekend of Group 1 racing on May 26th and 27th, 2018, with the Singapore Turf Club starting the weekend off on Saturday with a welcome return to international racing at Kranji.
After a hiatus of three years after the former Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) and Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m), both staged for 15 years at Kranji, were discontinued in 2015 the S$1.5m, SGroup 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) invitation race was a prelude to a full international race planned for 2019.
Hong Kong sent two representatives for the race, Southern Legend under Zac Purton and Horse Of Fortune for Karis Teetan, and they finished first and second respectively with local runner Nova Strike and Olivier Placais third. Locals Clarton Super and Infantry were and fifth respectively.
The Sha Tin duo of trainer Casper Fownes and Purton combined with Southern Legend who came to the race with the equal highest international rating of 115 off the back of his third in the Group 1 Champions Mile over 1600m at Sha Tin on April 29th.
All week the five-year-old gelding had looked well and relaxed even after a long season in Hong Kong and when barrier one was drawn it seemed the only question was had the season’s racing taken a toll.
From the moment the barriers opened and Purton sent Southern Legend forward quickly to maintain the leader’s position on the rail that question was not only answered, but the race was effectively in their keeping.
Once they had straightened for the long run to the line Purton once more put the pressure on and took a clear lead. They were 2L ahead at the 300m and then Purton asked Southern Legend too step up again and they left the field behind. Approaching the line Purton eased off with the race completed and a 3L winning margin.
The win was Fownes’ fourth at Kranji, the previous three being at the former International meetings.
“It has been a great victory today. It has always been fun to come here and I am very happy we got this result. Zac got the job done nicely. He was the horse that was coming to hand and I think this coming December we will see more," said Fownes.
The race was only announced in February and the successful running so soon after gave the Singapore Turf Club a valuable run through in their preparation to step up again for the 2019 renewal.
The win by Purton, who had also won the SGroup 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) earlier on the Kranji programme on the Lee Freedman trained Mr Clint, was the fore runner for another black type win back at Sha Tin on Sunday when riding the Tony Cruz trained Winner's Way in the Group 3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m).
That win led into the feature at Sha Tin when the renaissance of the Tony Cruz trained Pakistan Star continued in style with a comfortable win in the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m).
The quirky 2016 Hong Kong International Sale graduate gave his supporters arguably their easiest watch yet. Settling second, never more than three lengths off Exultant’s even tempo, jockey Tommy Berry tracked up ominously on the bend as his four rivals resorted to a vigorous drive.
Indeed, upon straightening, the result never really appeared in doubt. Sweeping to the lead at the 300m, Pakistan Star looked the winner a long way from home, and while the dazzling turn-of-foot that he had displayed in his last-start win in the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) was not there, in its place was a clear class edge over his rivals that saw him assert his superiority.
At the line, Pakistan Star held a margin of one and three-quarter lengths over Exultant, with Gold Mount flying from last, as is his want, to finish third, four and a half lengths from the winner. For Cruz, it was just as he had hoped and predicted – a one-two-three for his stable.
“I cannot express how good a job Tony has done with this horse, to go from not racing at the start of the season, to miss December and then to win two Group 1's on end, and not just to win them but to smash them, it is a big effort,” said Berry.
Cruz confirmed that Pakistan Star’s season was now complete and that the main target now will December’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
“It is going to be an all-domestic programme I think,” Cruz said.
“We will stay in Hong Kong and the main goal is to win at the international meeting in December. The fact he sees out 2400m means that we could consider the Vase, but the Cup is the biggest race in Hong Kong and he might be the best horse here. I think the 2000m suits him better, too."
The Sha Tin meeting also had the significant achievement of trainer John Moore becoming the first Hong Kong trainer to send out 1600 winners.
Moore, who took over from his legendary father George as a Sha Tin trainer in 1985, achieved the special figure with victory by Experto Crede.
“It is very special, we have been around a while but to get the 1600 up considering the number of races in Hong Kong, it’s quite a feat,” he said.
“We’ve got a few more seasons to go so hopefully we can add to it before then. I want to thank all the owners for their support, from 1985 until now, it’s been quite a journey. Now, the 1600 mark is a target for all trainers.”
The 85th Tokyo Yushin (Group 1 Japanese Derby) (2400m) at Tokyo completed the trio of high class Asian races for the weekend when fifth favorite Wagnerian demonstrated a strong finish in the main straight to dominate the three-year-old classic.
The win by the Deep Impact colt created a new owners record for the Tokyo Yushin with his owner Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co., Ltd. becoming the owner of four Derby winners; King Kamehameha (2004), Deep Impact (2005) and Makahiki (2016).
Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi has now won JRA-Group 1 races no fewer than nine times and this is his second Tokyo Yushun title after he celebrated his first with Makahiki in 2016. Since his Shuka Sho victory with Vivlos in 2016, this is jockey Yuichi Fukunaga’s 21st JRA-Group 1 win and much awaited first Tokyo Yushun title in his 19th attempt.
Breaking from a wide stall, Wagnerian was pushed forward early to race in sixth to seventh and three-wide while cruising down the back straight a few lengths behind race favorite Danon Premium and outside of second pick Blast Onepiece.
Wagnerian moved into the race rounding the last turn. He was third at the foot of the hill and then gained on the leaders in the last 200m catching Cosmic Force 100 meters out and then Epoca d’Oro in another 50 meters to win by half a length.
“The staff did a terrific job in preparing the colt and he just gave his best. I just drove him feverishly to the line. I have won Group 1 races in Tokyo before, but to win the Derby is totally a different story,” commented Yuichi Fukunaga after the race.