Racing Post: live blog

Hong Kong International Races - December 2015

Scott Burton reports live from Hong Kong where the global Flat season reaches its star-studded conclusion with Sunday's International Races fixture

    'Magic Man' Moreira: 299 not out

    ON THE day that some of the biggest stars in world racing came to town, Hong Kong racing fans remain unanimous in their belief that they wouldn't trade the twice-weekly pleasure of watching Joao Moreira ply his trade.

    The International Jockey Challenge meeting at Happy Valley this evening didn't exactly go to plan for the “Magic Man” but even a bad day at the office rarely goes completely unrewarded in Moreira's world.

    Joao Moreira reflects on some wizard whip skills
    by HKJC via YouTube

    A champion jockey in his native Brazil and then Singapore, Moreira has not so much rewritten the record books as set light to them in his brief time in Hong Kong.

    A glance at the Twitter account for the South China Morning Post's racing desk confirms just what a valuable asset Moreira has become to both the sport and his legion of punting followers.

    The Post's tribute to Moreira after completing his runaway premiership success in 2014-15 is permanently pinned to the top of the feed, with the 31-year-old's almost feline features picked out in stills of all 143 wins.
    BEAUTY FLAME wins the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile 2015
    by HKJC via YouTube

    Despite an underwhelming warm-up in the Jockey Club Mile last month, Able Friend will be the shortest-priced favourite among the four races in all jurisdictions, while his starting price in Hong Kong can only be guessed at.

    Moreira is under intense media scrutiny every time he is legged up for a barrier trial, let alone the twice-weekly meetings themselves.

    For a few heart-stopping moment on Wednesday he lay prostrate on the sodden Happy Valley turf after being unseated from General Iron after passing the post.

    With just 30 minutes until the first IJC race the entire event seem to hang in suspended animation, until Moreira hauled himself to his feet.

    10 minutes later he was standing on the podium with his 11 rivals watching the fireworks.

    “Hi man,” he called to me on the way back to the weighing room, perhaps less a sign of a bang to the head (we'd never actually met), than of the working assumption in Moreira's world that there can't be any racing journalists left who haven't had a piece of him.

    The figures for this season look set to eclipse last years with indecent haste. A regulation five-timer at Sha Tin last weekend pushed the Brazilian past 50 winners for a season which only started in September, five weeks ahead of the schedule he achieved in his 143 season.

    Assuming he can avoid future mishaps like the one which could so easily have ended his night here, the only questions which arise are when will he pass his own mark and by how far?

    Pat Cummings has been with the Hong Kong Jockey Club for even less time than Moreira has been carrying all before him but he makes a compelling case for the jockey's irresistable numerical onslaught.

    “You always say that records are made to be broken but it is going to be tough for anyone to break the records that Moreira is setting," he says. "The numbers are just astronomical for Hong Kong. It was big when Douglas Whyte was putting up 113 or 115 winners. Last year Moreira broke the record by 30, in a place where they only run 770 races a year. To do that has been sensational.

    “This year he has only gotten better. Last year it took him over 3oo races to get to 50. It took him 229 this year. And he missed four meetings: three because of suspension and one when he got stuck by the weather coming back from Australia."

    It is estimated that the prices of every horse he rides are to some degree lower because he is getting on them. It works the other way when he gets off one. But where his greatest benefit comes in is that he can ride light. And in a place where you run 95 per cent of your races as handicaps with a 20lb spread – in some cases 30lb because of the apprentices – when you can routinely ride at 114lb in races where the topweights are rated 133, and your are most competitive riders in the room are riding at a minimum of 120 or 121, he just gets on better horses because he can ride anywhere up and down the handicap.

    He doesn't always bring in the short priced ones, he can bring in the odds 5,6 or 8-1 winner. But the question is what price they would be if someone else was riding them.

    Cummings is equally adamant that Moreira is more than just a numbers one, albeit a magic one.

    “He shows up in Dubai and wins on World Cup night. He shows up in America and rides winners for Wesley Ward, and he has helped Wesley out this week, riding work on his horse [Green Mask]. He just has a natural knack that you just don't see.

    "I thought it was a shame at Royal Ascot when Able Friend didn't show his race but he then comes back on Medicean Man, who was 60-odd to one, and nearly nicked the King's Stand.
    He just gets horses to run for him and he has a unique touch. If you can ride as competitively as he does in one of the toughest handicapping jurisdictions out there, where it is so tight, where there are only 1,200 horses, he is just rewriting the records, day in, day out. He is on pace now for 170.

    Able Friend is not the only arrow in Moreira's quiver for Sunday. Designs On Rome remains a dangerous player in the Cup, while Peniaphobia is second-favourite for the Sprint.

    A single victory aboard any of the three (assuming he hasn't mopped up on the undercard) will bring another milestone, as Moreira is currently on 299 career wins in Hong Kong.

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    After Fighting Cirrus, it's time to hail "Guerrieur Gailo"

    Team Gailo Chop ahead of the Longines Hong Kong Cup draw Thurdsday 

    THERE are a host of feelgood stories waiting to write themselves into the headlines at this year's Hong Kong International meeting on Sunday. The eight-year-old Sole Power in the Sprint and Cirrus Des Aigles – a year his senior – in the Vase. The return of the Mongolian horde, hoping that Saturday's Breeders' Cup Joy becomes heaven on Sunday in the Sprint. Or how do you like the rise of Sakura Gospel's trainer Tomohito Ozeki from groom to trainer in search of his first Group or Grade 1 success ?

    worthy of the support from global racing's band of hopeless romantics.

    I am going to throw the name of Cup contender Gailo Chop in there as the horse that every true racing fan should be hoping to see run a big race.

    gelded son of Deportivo was France's highest-rated male three-year-old in 2014.

    trainer Antoine de Watrigant - whose string in the south western rugby stronghold of Mont de Marsan numbered no more than 35 horses last season – chose to rest Gailo Chop after he sluiced up in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano in the middle of August, defying the temptation that a handler with four times his headcount would have found difficult to resist. 

    Gailo Chop - Prix Guillaume d'Ornano - Deauville - 15/08/14
    by Equidia via YouTube

    “Last year he used to take a lot of himself and I knew I needed to be patient,” recalls de Watrigant. “I told Terry Henderson to be patient and that he would make a proper four-year-old. Everyone was asking me whether there was a problem with the horse. But I had decided on that course of action some time before and I didn't want to change my mind. And we had already decided to prepare him for Australia and the Cox Plate by the end of the year.


    The story of 2015's highs and lows for Gailo Chop and de Watrigant would fill a novel.
     For the trainer, the thrill of landing a first Group 1 when his stable star won the MacKinnon Stakes at Flemington last month has to be balanced having his numbers slashed to 12 when owner/breeder Alain Chopard took nearly 20 horses (along with most of the staff) to train them himself.

    And for Gailo Chop himself there was that stirring fightback under Ben Melham, having looked likely to get swamped.
     But also the memory of a complete no-show in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot on a day when de Watrigant was sure he had the horse in “the form of his life.

    The win got plenty of coverage in Australia, not least for the onscreen reaction of part-owner Francesca Cumani and her co-commentator and OTI Mangement co-founder Simon O'Donnell.

    Having already found himself frusttrated with the efforts of Brad Rawiller in the Cox Plate, De Watrigant began to fear the worst when Ben Melham took the race by the scruff of the neck in the Mackinnon.
     But the young riding sensation knew what he wanted to do and the “Guerrieur (Warrior) Gailo" fought back in dramatic fashion.

    “At the entrance to the back straight he was going pretty quick and I said to myself 'ouf' but, he is a very strong horse.
     It's more than just courage, he just fears nothing. Whatever happens, he breathes, he go again. For another horse to get passed like him, it would be too hard. But he retook them and he went on again well past the post.

    Australian-based OTI have always placed plenty of faith in their trainers and there is no particular pressure to pick Australian targets for next southern hemisphere spring.
     But de Watrigant has already eaerned a taste for the Antipodes.

    “He has shown that he handles the travelling,” says de Watrigant.
     “He is extraordinary. When he landed in Australia after quarantine and then three days of travelling, he had only lost 12kg.

    I've had horse lose twice that going from Mont de Marsan up to Paris.
     It only took him two days to get the weight back on.

    “I felt that in time, it showed he might get further.
     Perhaps next year we might take in one race before – perhaps the Cox Plate – and then, as he seems to be getting easier on himself with age, why not the Melbourne Cup. It's a race you need good starting speed and then to sustain your effort in the closing stages. He has both, we just need to find another 800 metres !

    Free Eagle re-match

    Gailo Chop has already faced Longines Hong Kong Cup favourite Free Eagle this season and came off much the worse when trailing home a distant eighth.

    De Watrigant says: “You have to forget his run at Ascot when he just didn't breathe well and was unable to respond.
     I have never had him in such good shape as that day, he was in the form of his life. But he just didn't run his race. John Gosden's horse [Western Hymn] finished third at Ascot and we beat him by 18 lengths in the Guillaume d'Ornano. We had every right to be fourth but not eighth.

    Free Eagle is a very good horse but perhaps he is fragile.
     I know my horse is strong and we will finish a lot closer this time."

     Gailo Chop with work rider Steve Haies on Thursday

    Straight after Thursday's draw ceremony de Watrigant tells me he is happy enough with a middle draw in seven, a number he tells me is “a biblical number which brings good luck.”

    Gailo Chop has kept the work watchers and photographers entertained at Sha Tin, putting in more meaningful metres than many. What would it mean if it all paid off on Sunday?

    The trainer says.
    .. “If he runs in the first three it will be great and it is a big plus having Christophe Soumillon. What he has done in Australia is already fantastic and a top three  would be the cerise sur le gateau. If he wins then well...

    Don't worry Antoine.
     If Gailo Chop returns to the number one spot after the Cup, my bet is you won't be lost for words.

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    Frankie's Cup succession and memories of Falbrav

    Frankie Dettori is presented with his award by Juan-Carlos Capelli (Longines) and Louis Romanet (IFHA)

    Frankie Dettori officially succeeded Ryan Moore as the Longines Worlds Best Jockey during a gala dinner at the cavernous Hong Kong Covention and Exhibition Centre on Friday.

    Accepting the award, Dettori said: "It's about time someone did this and, although it's only the second year of the award, I'm getting a bit long in the tooth and don't have too many years left so it's great to win it.

    The 45-year-old flew into town specially to collect the trophy and has no rides in the Hong Kong International Races on Sunday.

    Dettori has enjoyed plenty of success at Sha Tin over the course of his career and has a full set of wins in the four main races, including three in the Hong Kong Cup.

    Twice successful with horses trained by Saeed Bin Suroor (Fantastic Light in 2000 and Ramonti in 2007), Dettori was also aboard for the mighty Falbrav's career swansong 2003.

    This week former Hong Kong-based David Hayes - who saddles Criterion in Sunday's big race - has been recalling his own part in the '03 Cup as trainer of third placed Elegant Fashion.

    "Elegant Fashion was the Derby winner and she was terrific," says Hayes. "She really presented on the day but Falbrav was a superstar and he and Rakti were just a bit too big and a bit too strong on the day."

    Falbrav arrived in Hong Kong having just missed out at Santa Anita behind the dead-heating High Chaparral and Johar one of the greatest races in the history of the Breeders' Cup.

    Sent off the 5-4 favourite Falbrav "sprouted wings at the 150" in the words of the commentator, who concluded his call by urging viewers to "say goodbye to a superstar!"

    Falbrav must rank very close to the top of the tree in the careers of both Dettori and Luca Cumani and he certainly went out in style. 

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    Sha Tin Breakfast Club Awards
    HKJC cameras capture US sprinter Green Mask on Friday 

    Within a prescious few hours Sha Tin will be a blaze of colour and sound and the winners and losers of the four Longines Hong Kong International Races will be known. Racing is all about the hopes of the mornings being confirmed or dashed in the afternoon.  Every trainer you speak to here says that the serious work was already done before boarding the plane but the track work this week has provided enough "information" to at least challenge a few long held assumptions, while the queues at the breakfast buffet are a hotbed of gossip traded and chance encounters. So here are a few gongs garnered from the sights and sounds of Sha Tin's inside track...

    Bullet worker of the week
    A little like the Prix de l'Abbaye on Arc day -  long recognised as the moment when the Brits and Irish scrap over Group 1 sprinting honours while their French hosts finish their lunch - this is a prize which . The sight of Hiruno D'Amour, Kizuna and the mighty Orfevre being gunned across les Aigles at full tilt a matter of four days before the Arc has left me in little doubt that the Japanese never go into a major race underdone. 
    With a record 10 entries at the meeting this is a competitive heat but the honours go to Fiero, who was sixth in last year's Mile and scorched up the turf track on Wednesday

    Fiero... Probably not as fast as Maurice but he sure looked it Wednesday 

    Smooth operator
    The blog has already made its admiration for Highland Reel apparent, especially considering the physical improvement Aidan O'Brien's colt seems to have made since the spring. Vase rival Cannock Chase was almost the last of the international raiders to show his hand but Sir Michael Stoute's charge proved a big hit with track watchers when the warps were eventually taken off, doing everything asked of him (admittedly nothing to strenuous) with the ease which belies a mere ten career starts. Pat Smullen had a sit on him on Friday and said: "He is a typical Sir Michael Stoutre improving horse and he felt very well this morning. If there is a bit of pace to run at then I think he will run a huge race."

    Cannock Chase and ice cool Pat Smullen 

    Stubborn as a mule
    He may be a Breeders' Cup winner and have the most colourful back story but Momgolian Saturday won't do anything unti he is ready. The sight of him planting himself at the entrance to Sha Tin's all-weather track for ten minutes or more on a daily basis will be one of the lasting images of the week. 

    Mongolian Saturday is not swayed by the words of trainer Ganbat Enebish 

    The "did that just really happen" moment of the week
    Again a proper horse race this one, especially in the sub category of interviews conducted while one or both parties are eating. Honourable mentions go to buffet encounters with Wesley Ward and Yasutoshi Ikee but nothing will top the conversation I had with Freddy Head which in which he paused to introduce me to Gai Waterhouse. It has been that sort of week... 

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    No fairytale in Hong Kong for Gailo

    Gailo Chop and Antoine de Watrigant on Friday at Sha Tin

    So it was not to be for Gailo Chop. Antoine de Watrigant and OTI Management's guerrieur has not recovered sufficiently from the lameness which emerged on Saturday morning in his off-hind leg after exercise and has been scratched from the Hong Kong Mile. De Watrigant knows every inch of his horse and fans of Gailo Chop will be reassured that his handler will have had only his longtime welfare at heart. 
    The trainer knows he has a horse who can handle the travelling and we can look forward to seeing him campaigned on the world stage in 2016. 

    I've had horses lose twice that going up to Paris from Mont de Marsan

    De Watrigant says of Gailo Chop: "He is extraordinary.
    When he landed in Australia he had lost 12 kg. I've had horses lose twice that going up to Paris from Mont de Marsan. And it only took him two days to get the weight back on again."
    Here's to many more international adventures for Team Gailo

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    Highlight of the day so far ? One of Cantopop's biggest stars, Miriam Yeung

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    HK Vase: First of the Group 1s up next

    Flintshire going through his paces on the Sha Tin all-weather 

    The Vase has been a European benefit in the last ten years, with five wins for France (including defending champion Flintshire), four for Britain and just Dominant for Hong Kong two seasons ago. 
    Highland Reel attempts to win a first Hong Kong International Race for Aidan O'Brien. 
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    Highland Reel lands the Vase
    What a day for Ireland after Conor McGregor becomes MMA World Champion. Highland Reel took a bit more than 13 seconds to win the Vase but it's "Soldier's Song" which rings out after the Vase. Flintshire was second and Dariyan rounded out an all Euro podium
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    Triple ton for 'Magic Man' Moreira
    It's been a day for the jockeys so far. After Ryan Moore got Highland Reel across smartly from stall nine in the Vase, Joao Moreira blitzes from the outside box 14 for a stunning win on Peniaphobia in the Sprint. That is Moreira's 300th winner in Hong Kong and he won't have judged too many better, Christophe Soumillon upgraded his third place in the Vase to be runner-up here on Gold-Fun, who has now been second on the card in three successive years. Frustration for Richard Gibson who, having run into Glorious Days and Able Friend in the last two HK Miles, watches Gold-Fun run out of real estate to be beaten half a length. Sole Power was 11th with owner David Power philosophical. "Chris said he dodn't enjoy the turn but, please God, we can go again next year."
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    Moore double up on Maurice
    Maurice follows up his win in Kyoto's Champions Mile in landing the Hong Kong version. If you think that form is strong, you have to give a chance to fourth placed Satono Aladdin and James McDonald stepped up to a mile and a quarter. But they all have Free Eagle to beat...

    Satono Aladdin on Friday 

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    Sun rises on A Shin Hikari
    Japan sent a record ten entries for the Hong Kong International Races and, following Maurice's triumph in the Mile, A Shin Hikari and Yutaka Take doubled the nation's haul with an extraordinary run in the Cup. Time for another blast of "Kimigayo," the Japanese national anthem. Compatriot Nuevo Record finished second and perhaps Japan's absence at the Arc this October will prove only a temporary blip come Chantilly next October. 
    Free Eagle came to win his race but fell away tamely and finished absolutely last, a disappointing final appearance before he goes to the Irish National Stud. 
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    HIGHLAND REEL wins the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase 2015

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    In case you were sleeping...
    Time to review four great Group 1 performances, starting with a Ryan Moore masterclass on Highland Reel in the Vase
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    PENIAPHOBIA lands LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint 2015

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    Moreira magic
    That was followed by Peniaphobia and Joao Moreira, who left nothing to chance from stall 14
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    MAURICE takes LONGINES Hong Kong Mile 2015

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    Maurice a 'top-class miler' for Moore as Japan joins the party
    After all the drama with Able Friend - would he be scratched - Moreira clearly thought Maurice was the horse to beat, tracking him throughout. But Able Friend couldn't get back to him in an all-action finish. 
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    Timeless Yutaka Take takes the breath away
    A Shin Hikari had a reputation as a bit of a headcase but he ground his rivals into the Hong Kong dust with a relentless display of galloping under Take. 
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