Favorite Mongolian Khan captures Caulfield; Japan's Fame Game finishes 6th with Hokko Brave in 10th
Japan’s two-horse contingent to Australia – Fame Game and Hokko Brave -- came up empty Saturday, Oct. 17 in the Caulfield Cup, but Fame Game’s stupendous late drive has made him the likely favorite in the Nov. 3 Melbourne Cup. His positioning just before the late drive also drew severe criticism from the stewards, and both jockey Zachary Purton and trainer Yoshitada Munakata were grilled on their motives for holding the horse in the far back of the field until the final 400 meters.
Fame Game, runnerup in this year’s Tenno Sho (Spring), flew down the stretch once Purton finally moved him out for a clear run and turned in the race’s second-fastest time over the final 400 meters – 23.28 seconds. Nonetheless, the 5-year-old son of Heart’s Cry, carrying the second-heaviest weight of 57 kg in the field of 18, could only manage sixth place, nearly 5 lengths off winner Mongolian Khan.
Japan’s other hopeful, the 7-year-old Hokko Brave, had drawn wide and been trapped wide for most of the trip under Craig Williams. He battled away to cross the line in 10th place a length behind Fame Game. Williams said it’d been a luckless trip. “I had no favors in the run and he’s run really well.”
Second in the Caulfield Cup was Ed Dunlop’s Trip to Paris, under Tommy Berry. The 5-year-old gelding topped the field with the fastest time over the final 2 furlongs – 23.03 seconds. He was followed by the German-bred 6-year-old Our Ivanhowe in third place a length and a quarter later.
In fourth and fifth were Gust of Wind and Snow Sky, respectively. Gust of Wind carried 6 kg less than Fame Game, while the Micheal Stoute-trained Snow Sky, along with 15th-place finisher Protectionist, carried the field’s top weight of 58 kg.
Fame Game, at the back of the field after jumping from gate No. 1, was tightened for room between Hauraki and Grand Marshal just before the 500-meter mark and had to be steadied. He then sank to the far rear as the others picked up the pace and didn’t start his drive until he was 400 out. It was Purton’s tactics from 800 out, however, that particularly drew criticism. Holding steady about six from the back on the rail, the colt suddenly sank back. “We were concerned with the tactics that were adopted from the half-mile (800m) and we questioned Zac Purton and the trainer about the instructions,” Chief Steward Terry Bailey was reported as saying.
Munakata, through a translator, said he gave instructions to the jockey to “get back, not go too wide, and to ride between horses.” He reportedly said, “This horse tries harder between horses.” Munakata also claimed that they had all intentions of a sincere run in the race and that he had made the trip to Australia to win both the Caulfield and the Melbourne Cups.
Purton’s postrace comment merely reiterated what the Hong Kong-based native of Australia had been saying before the race, that Fame Game was more cut out for the Melbourne Cup than the Caulfield Cup. “As expected,” Purton said, “It was always going to be a bit short. But he did what we wanted.”
What exactly was wanted was the main point of contention. Chief Steward Bailey said, “From our point of view, the ride lacked some purpose and the instructions provided were a low-percentage play.
“When the horse did get clear inside the final 100 meters it wasn’t the same sort of vigor that we’re used to seeing from Zac Purton.
Bailey concluded, “Weighing it all up and the fact the horse was having its first run in Australia, its first run at the track and considering the instructions and the fact the horse did get held up at a vital stage of the race, the stewards didn’t take any direct action but we were certainly mindful of reminding the connections that we hope the same instructions were given in the Melbourne Cup.”
Mongolian Khan is now running third in popularity for the Melbourne Cup behind Trip to Paris and Fame Game. The 3-year-old Mongolian Khan, a double-Derby champion, had a picture-perfect ride under New Zealander Opie Bosson. Forced to make his run early rounding four wide into the straight, the colt stepped to the fore nearly 400 meters out and defended his ground fiercely. An ecstatic Bosson exclaimed, “He’s taken me to my biggest heights in racing. And this is by far my biggest thrill in racing. He could probably go around again. He just loves staying. Look out in the Melbourne Cup.”
On Monday, Mongolian Khan received a 1-kg penalty for the Melbourne Cup. He will now be racing under 56 kg, 1 kg less than Fame Game. Caulfield Cup runnerup Trip to Paris, who finished only half a length behind the winner, will remain at 55 kg in the Melbourne Cup, to be run at Flemington Racecourse on Nov. 3.
Winning trainer Murray Baker, also from New Zealand, gained his first Caulfield Cup victory after a number of bids. “I’ve been close a few times, I’ve had two seconds and two thirds in the Caulfield Cup – I’ve got one for good attendance,’’ Baker said.
“We knew this horse could stay a strong 2400 meters, it was a great ride by Opie Bosson, and it was just a matter of whether he was good enough on the day.
“It’s a big thrill because we have always had a big opinion of Mongolian Khan but winning these big races in Australia is not easy. We have finally done it.’’
Mongolian Khan, who is now eight for 13, including wins of both the New Zealand Derby and the Australian Derby, is undefeated over 2,400 meters. By Holy Roman Empire out of the Centaine mare Centafit, Mongolian Khan was born in Tasmania and is Chinese-owned. He covered the 2,400 meters of the Caulfield Cup turf rated “good” in a time of 2 minutes 27.76 seconds.
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