Curren Chan's fifth best for Japan four at Sha Tin
Sha Tin Racecourse
Curren Chan bested the quartet of Japan-based runners in Hong Kong this year for the International Races as the Sprinters Stakes winner turned in a fifth-place finish in the Hong Kong Sprint. Next best on the books was Japan Cup fourth-place finisher Trailblazer with a sixth in the Vase. Apapane was beaten by all but one in the 14-strong field of the Mile and Pas de Trois, also running in the Sprint, lagged home in last place.
Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden kicked off the opener of the big four at Sha Tin Racecourse on Dec. 11 as he landed the Hong Kong Vase in what would be the only victory for foreign-based horses taking on the Hong Kong International Races. Dunaden stormed to a historic Group 1 double as he added the Vase to last month's G1 Melbourne Cup. The 5-year-old, trained in France by Mikel Delzangles, became the first horse to capture the two races.
Pas de Trois
Settled in midfield under Australian rider Craig Williams, Dunaden held steady in seventh position as British hope Jakkalberry led the field off the home turn. But, as Jakkalberry faded at the furlong pole, Dunaden approached top gear and swept past rivals to win by three-quarters of a length.
Trailblazer's performance came as a disappointment after the colt had been considered by many to be Japan's best chance for success in Hong Kong this year.
"He was different this time. He just didn't move out from the gate smoothly," said trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, who as an assistant trainer under his father, Yasuo, helped bring Stay Gold to victory in the Vase in 2001. "He wasn't able to get a good position. I don't know why. Maybe it was due to the difference in the turf between here and Japan. He wasn't able to run his race," Ikee relayed through a JRA representative at Sha Tin.
Jockey Katsumi Ando agreed, "He just wasn't able to race as he normally would and he didn't seem to like the turf." Breaking from the No. 1 gate, Ando had stayed on the rail and had hoped to continue there for the final meters. Around the final bend, however, he was unable to get a clear run and was forced to go wide. "Unlike Japan," he said, "there is a path about two or three widths' out from the rail that everyone aims for. Since we weren't able to make headway well early on I couldn't a good position, then was forced to go wide in the straight."
Immediately following the Vase was the Hong Kong Sprint, in which Sprinters Stakes champion Curren Chan gave Japan its best result Sunday at Sha Tin with a fifth-place finish. The race, won by Lucky Nine, saw Rocket Man among the early front-runners as expected pulling the field of 14 at a blistering pace. Rocket Man, however, unexpectedly ran quickly out of gas to finish 12th.
Curren Chan's rider Kenichi Ikezoe largely blamed, not the trip, but the trip over as having taken its toll on the filly. Airplane trouble had grounded three of the Japanese horses (all but Trailblazer) and kept them waiting for hours. "She had lost weight and I think they nevertheless did a great job bringing her back up to the condition she was for the race," Ikezoe said, "But, if she had been 100 percent I think we could have done better." Still, Ikezoe said he had been impressed with Curren Chan's run. "Everything had felt good, but right before the final turn, things got tight and she had to put the brakes on a bit. She quickened again after that but it wasn't enough. Rocket Man was right in front and I hadn't thought that he would tire so quickly. Curren Chan was moving better than ever and I think this race will serve as a great experience for her. Hopefully, we'll be able to try again next year."
Trainer Takayuki Yasuda agreed that Curren Chan had done her best. "If you put the Sprinters Stakes at a 10, then she'd have been an 8 for this race. I don't think she had a problem with the turf, and it was a good run. We hadn't expected that of Rocket Man," Yasuda said, referring to his quick fade in the final meters. "I think," Yasuda added, "we can hold our heads high and be proud of a fifth-place finish," Japan's best in the race thus far.
Japan's other runner in the Sprint was Pas de Trois, who finished last in the field of 14. Ando, who had the ride in the Sprint as well, said he felt the colt had not been 100 percent. "Compared to the Sprinters Stakes, if he was a 10 there, I'd put him at 6 or 7 today." Ando also blamed the colt's timid nature for his poor showing and explained that the colt had applied the brakes in the stretch when the others came up on his outside. "He can do much better than this," Ando said.
The pressure was on for Apapane in the Mile to try to salvage battered hopes, but salvation was not to be. Though she showed promise in the early stages, Japan's filly triple crown champion failed to quicken in the stretch and crossed the line only one off last place. A Hong Kong local notched what would be the second of three of the International Races (California Memory took the Cup) with an unexpected win by 9-year-old gelding Able One. Caught as shocked by the win as any was 50-year-old jockey Jeff Lloyd. "He surprised everybody today," said Lloyd, who had admitted "I'd been trying to forget I was riding Able One and was just trying to believe we could do it."
The results in the Mile were a letdown for Apapane trainer Sakae Kunieda, openly surprised at his filly's performance. "It's disappointing. She seemed to be in good shape and the race itself went well," he said. "The jockey said she just didn't respond. I really don't know what the problem was," Kunieda said shaking his head. "It must have been a mental thing. In training she had looked good and eager to race. And, she had looked really, really good out there for a while. As far as the race goes I have no complaints. She just seems, for some reason, not to have been able to access her ability at all." Rider Masayoshi Ebina agreed, "She just didn't respond. It was just like in the Fuchu Himba Stakes."
"Well, you know how it is," the always optimistic Kunieda said with a grin, "The female heart is a very complicated thing."
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