Japan-based horses capture two wins at HKIR
Despite the pandemic and all its ensuing uncertainties, the Hong Kong International Races went on this year.
Under clear skies and over “good” ground, Japan’s team of six took on three of the four Grade 1 events held Sunday, Dec. 13 at Sha Tin Racecourse. The final score – Japan 2, Hong Kong 1 and Ireland 1.
First up for Japan was a truly smashing victory in the 1,200-meter Hong Kong Sprint, long a stronghold of the locals and the only Hong Kong International Japan did not win in 2019. Eighth last year as Japan’s only representative in the 2019 Sprint, Danon Smash rocketed home to top a field of 14 and give rider Ryan Moore his second big win of the day after his first for Ireland aboard Mogul in the Vase.
The 5-year-old Danon Smash broke from the far outside gate and travelled in midfield. He made his move with 300 meters to go and stepped into the lead at the 150-meter mark, then held his ground and crossed the line half a length ahead of Hong Kong’s Jolly Banner, with local Rattan in third.
“It was an outside gate and to be honest, I was a bit worried,” said Moore as he rode back. “My plan was to play it depending on the start. We got lucky. He broke really well, ran on the pace feeling good, and I was able to slot into a lovely spot.”
“When the pace steadied around the bend, I was able to just move out and keep moving forward and he got there in plenty of time,” said the British ace later. He was very tough and very honest – a pleasure to ride and he’d shown very good form at times in Japan’s best sprints and at seven furlongs as well he’s won some of the best races at Group 2 level and he deserved to win his Group 1.”
For trainer Takayuki Yasuda, it was the third win of the Hong Kong Sprint, the third win for Japan overall. Yasuda had tasted victory twice before, with Danon Smash’s sire Lord Kanaloa and his double Sprint wins in 2012 and 2013. “It’s fantastic that Lord Kanaloa’s second generation has won the race,” Yasuda said. “I actually wasn’t able to watch it live and before I could see the video all these people started calling me saying ‘Congratulations!’ so when I did watch I knew winning was a sure thing. It couldn’t be better.”
In his three earlier top-level runs this year, the 5-year-old Danon Smash had finished 10th in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, followed by an eighth in the mile Yasuda Kinen, and a second to Gran Alegria in the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes in early October before he took on Hong Kong. As for future plans, Yasuda said, “Nothing has been decided yet, but I do think we’ll take on the Takamatsunomiya Kinen once again.”
Japan’s other Sprint runner was the 5-year-old Tower of London finishing 13th. 12th in this year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, he was being given only his fourth start this year and had not raced since mid-May.
“As I watched the race, I thought he looked good under way,” said trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. “It was his first start in a while and he looked like he just gave up. But he definitely was capable of showing us some good racing. I’ll have to discuss things with the owner before we decide what plans are for the horse.”
The third Hong Kong International Race was the Hong Kong Mile, with a field of 10 and only one runner from Japan, Admire Mars, winner of the 2019 Mile and third in this year’s Mile Championship.
Before the race, the big chestnut, in excellent condition, looked keen and eager. Ryan Moore pressed the 4-year-old son of Daiwa Major forward, where he stalked Ka Ying Star.
It looked to be a push as Admire Mars ran with his mouth wide open, but may have been his only chance up against the monster that is Golden Sixty. The local superstar had settled three from the rear and, there was no stopping him when Vincent Ho unleashed the favorite’s crushing power.
Golden Sixty blew past Admire Mars, who had taken the lead at the 150-meter mark, and won by 2 lengths improving his dazzling record to 14 wins from 15 outings. The Casper Fownes-trained Southern Legend managed to get ahead in the final steps, putting Admire Mars in third place.
Japan saved its biggest showing for last. Three Japan-based horses – Danon Premium, Win Bright and Normcore -- made up a large part of the field of the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Cup, with a total eight runners.
Who came home the winner was the 5-year-old mare Normcore, ridden by the Hong Kong’s Zachary Purton.
Purton stalked Win Bright throughout before he pulled out for his final move and was able to gain the top and put 3/4 length between him and Win Bright as they crossed the finish line. It was another 3/4 length to third-place finisher Magical, with Danon Premium finishing fourth 2 lengths later.
The win made Purton the first jockey to tally nine wins of Hong Kong International Grade 1s. Of the win on Normcore he said, "I wouldn't say it was an unexpected result, I knew she had a good chance from a lovely gate (barrier three) we were going to get our chance."
"She was a bit keen in the run and I was worried about that but she fought well, she had to dig in and she found it. She showed heart.
Normcore trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said, “I am most grateful, firstly to the owner and the people at the farm, and to everyone who helped us win here. Zachary Purton gave her a great ride that brought out her best. Also, I think that all the fans in Japan cheering us on also helped bring home victory as our results. Thank you so much.”
It was an especially satisfying win for Purton, who says he had expected to have the ride on Normcore only to see it go to Christophe Soumillon. When it was decided that Soumillon needs to undergo further COVID-19 testing even after his 14-days quarantine, the ride was changed to Purton.
“It was a very good race,” the 37-year-old Purton said. “The connections had the horse in top shape and I was able to take up a good position under way traveling behind Win Bright and he fought really hard in the homestretch. I’d like to express my gratitude to those who gave me the opportunity to ride.”
The results were bittersweet for the connections of Win Bright, who is headed into retirement. Trainer Yoshihiro Hatakeyama said, “It was unfortunate, as the horse really gave it his all. The jockey, like he did last year, gave him a ride that allowed for no complaints and one that brought out the horse’s very best. The result come down to the fact that winner ran a very good race and was stronger.
“This year has been anything but normal,” Hatakeyama continued, “but this horse gave, as his last race, a race that was very much him. The breeder, owner and jockey all worked together as a team and gave him an experience that’s not easy to have. I take my hat off to everyone.”
Jockey Masami Matsuoka was more upbeat. “We had drawn the far outside gate but were able to get a good position, one that suited this horse’s running style. I think it was a convincing race, an excellent race. But the winner was a little bit better.”
“This will be the last time I ride Win Bright and I am over the moon that I was able to experience racing at the highest level. I hope he’ll do his best at stud. I’ll cheer this horse on forever.”
Danon Premium’s trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida acknowledged his charge’s efforts. “He fought hard. And the accompanying staff worked very hard under these difficult conditions. The race unfolded in such a way to favor those who came from far off the pace, which turned out to be unfortunate for this horse.”* Please visit the Hong Kong Jockey Club website for the latest news and further information.