Loves Only You, Glory Vase triumph in 2021 HKIR
Loves Only You
Japan sent its second-biggest team to Hong Kong this year to compete in the Hong Kong International Races, four Grade 1 turf competitions held at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, Dec. 12. Twelve Japan-based horses joined competitors from around the world in a “racing bubble” that allowed connections and horses to travel and compete safely amid the ongoing pandemic. True to form, this year’s bounty was substantial, with Japan returning home with two of the trophies and finishers in the top three in all four events.
The international gala got off to a glorious start for Japan, with the first of the big four, the HKD 20 million Hong Kong Vase (2,400 meters), going to race favorite Glory Vase. The 6-year-old paired with jockey Joao Moreira for a repeat of the team’s win in 2019.
The son of Deep Impact went off the race favorite at 2 p.m. in the day’s No. 4 race and, confidence embodied, traveled only one off the rear in the field of eight. As second pick Pyledriver stepped into the lead at the bend, Glory Vase was still biding his time from his backseat. Moreira then made his move, taking his mount wide for a stupendous final drive that took him past all but Pyledriver with 200 meters to go, and caught him with but 50 remaining.
They don’t call Moreira “Magic Man” for nothing and trainer Tomohito Ozeki had given Moreira free rein. “I was confident that if I could turn for home 3-5 lengths off the leaders and be passing others with 500-600 meters to go,” Moreira said, “I was going to be able to run them down because he is a very strong finisher.”
Glory Vase won by a length and clocked 2 minutes, 27.07 seconds. Pyledriver, winner of this year’s Grade 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom and ridden by British rider Martin Dwyer, finished second. The 4-year-old filly Ebaiyra, piloted by jockey Christophe Soumillon and running under 2 kg less than the rest of the field, finished in third place.
Glory Vase was racing for only his fourth time this year, with the Vase his first start in two and a half months following a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Sankei Sho All Comers at Nakayama in September.
Ozeki, who is based at Miho, said, “Two years ago, it was his first trip to Hong Kong and he had lost some weight, but this time, in his third race here, he didn’t lose weight and he was able to relax and give it his best.
“Like two years ago, I had Moreira ride him again, and he was both clever and bold. It was a fantastic ride and I think he showed the horse the way to victory.”
“Of course, I was confident, but that doesn’t take away from the pressure,” Moreira said. “I was riding the favorite and I had to make sure I gave my horse a good ride. I had to be very faithful and trustful and work closely with the connections.”
Japan’s other entrant in the Vase was the Yoshito Yahagi-trained Stay Foolish, whose best this year from six starts was a second in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen. He made his Vase bid from second position and had gone head to head with frontrunner Reliable Team from halfway down the backstretch and stepped into the lead heading for home. Soon overtaken, the 6-year-old son of 2001 Vase winner Stay Gold held his ground doggedly under jockey Vincent Ho and managed to stay on the board in fifth place. “He can be a one-speed horse and so I gave instructions to give him an assertive ride,” Yahagi said. “We did what we could and I think he did well for his first trip overseas.”
Forty minutes later, however, the celebratory mood at Sha Tin was about to end, as tragedy struck the Hong Kong Sprint. Japan fielded three horses and the only two Japan-based riders who had made the trip the Hong Kong - Yuichi Fukunaga and Yuga Kawada - were both up, the former on the 3-year-old colt Pixie Knight and Kawada on last year’s Sprint winner Danon Smash. The other runner Resistencia was being ridden by Soumillon.
All looked well until the home turn, where Amazing Star, with jockey Lyle Hewitson up, fell, causing a pileup behind. Naboo Attack, ridden by Karis Teetan, Lucky Patch and Zac Purton and Pixie Knight were all caught in the collision.
Those still standing, in what had been a 12-strong field, carried on, with Hong Kong’s Courier Wonder out in front with 100 meters to go, but Sky Field closing fast, managed to catch him before the wire and stave off a drive by Japan’s Resistencia that took her past Courier Wonder in the final strides for a second place, 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Sky Field’s finishing time was 1 minute, 8.66 seconds. Pixie Knight, this year’s Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes champion, continued riderless to the finish line but was later found to have suffered a fracture and other injuries. Danon Smash, who had been affected by the crash, finished a distant eighth.
Sky Field’s victory was for many, including a visibly shaken Blake Shinn, a “real bittersweet win.”
“It’s a lot of mixed emotions for winning this race today,” the Australian native said before details of the condition of those involved in the accident were in. “Obviously, the first emotion is my feelings towards the fallen jockeys out there and the horses. It’s gut-wrenching to see any rider or horse go down.”
Trainer Takeshi Matsushita, debuting at Sha Tin with runnerup Resistencia, said, “In the gate, the horse next to her was acting up and that affected her break. The jockey took her neatly inside and she did get second place. This filly always runs her heart out and I really have to take my hat off to her.”
“She ran well,” Soumillon said. “Unfortunately, we had to shift away from the fallen horses in the turn and the winner then pushed me out in the straight. She gave me a very good effort.”
Although delays had been expected for the next race, the Hong Kong Mile got under way punctually just before 4 p.m. local time. With a purse of HKD 26 million, the second-largest of the Grade 1s on International Day, the Mile’s field of 11 featured four runners from Japan, three of them Grade 1 winners - this year’s Yasuda Kinen champ Danon Kingly, 2019 Asahi Futurity Stakes winner Salios, this year’s Dubai Turf runnerup Vin de Garde and Hong Kong Mile repeater Indy Champ.
The star of the race, win or lose, was last year’s winner Golden Sixty, Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year and winningest horse in Hong Kong history.
Golden Sixty was going to the gate on a 15-race winning streak and, with a dash from the 300-meter mark the son of Medaglia d’Oro won by 1 3/4 lengths under Vincent Ho in a time of 1 minute, 33.86 seconds. Golden Sixty not only extended his winning streak, he set yet a new record of 19 career wins.
Salios, racing under Damian Lane, finished third by a neck behind local runnerup More Than This. “It was an honor for me to have ridden this horse,” said the 27-year-old Lane. “It was his first trip abroad and he ran well. He gave it everything he had. He’ll have learned with this experience and I think he’ll be even better next time.”
Mitsuo Tsuchiaki, assistant to trainer Noriyuki Hori, also praised the 4-year-old colt by Heart’s Cry. “It was his first overseas excursion but he quickly acclimatized to the new surroundings. I think he gave it his all today. With the inside draw the instructions were to give him an assertive ride but with the ground torn up in the stretch on the inside, he was taken wide in the final stage. I think both jockey and horse did a good job.”
Indy Champ, partnered with Soumillon, capped his career with a close fifth followed by Vin de Garde, piloted by Teetan. Indy Champ’s trainer Hidetaka Otonashi admitted, “I had expected him to finish a little bit closer to the top, but he was able to do his best and run without mishap. He’s a double Grade 1 winner and a fantastic horse and I want to thank him for his constant efforts over the years.”
Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara, expressed his satisfaction with the effort of his 5-year-old Vin de Garde. The son of Deep Impact was coming off a 12th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile just a little more than a month ago.
“It was a perfect race, an ideal race, but in the end, the difference between him and the others on an international stage was apparent,” Fujiwara said. “The jockey did a good job and I think both the horse and rider put in an excellent race.”
Yuga Kawada brought Danon Kingly home in eighth place, only 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner. “It’s unfortunate he lost,” trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said. “I don’t know what were the reasons behind the loss, but I plan to analyze the situation to learn more.”
Loves Only You, a winner with the crowds both home and abroad, went to the gate the favorite in what would be the last race of her career. The 5-year-old mare had flown in direct from her historic win at Del Mar for an encore performance at Sha Tin and, true to form, she brought the house down.
Once again the daughter of Deep Impact displayed incredible courage, tenacity and competitiveness, this time in a three-way stretch battle with eventual third-place finisher Russian Emperor and runnerup Hishi Iguazu.
With two wins at Sha Tin this year and the Breeders’ Cup victory, Loves Only You became the first Japan-based horse to win three top-level overseas competitions in a single year. But Yahagi revealed afterwards that there had been concerns going in to the race.
“She flew to Hong Kong via the United States and, for a while there, she was not herself,” Yahagi said. “To be honest, I was worried. But she was able to recover. I have nothing but respect for her and the staff.
“She’ll retire and it’s going to be lonely, but I am also greatly looking forward to seeing her foals. I am so grateful to have been able to know such a fantastic horse and I thank the many people who supported us.”
For Kawada, the win was also personal. “It has huge meaning for me. Loves Only You has presented me with two great awards of great distinction.
“Without a doubt she ranks up with the best. She is the best female horse that I have ever ridden. And, most importantly, I hope that she will have healthy foals and be a good mother.”
The Heart’s Cry 5-year-old Hishi Iguazu, trained by Hori and ridden by Moreira, missed claiming his first Grade 1 by a short head.
“Mr. Hori had told me the horse was in good shape, so I was very much looking forward to the race,” Moreira said. “He showed great persistence and his response from the 600-meter mark was excellent.
“He did lug in a bit over the final 300 meters, which was unfortunate, but he proved that he is very capable of landing a top-level victory.”
“It was his first trip abroad and it did take him a bit of time to get used to the new surroundings,” Tsuchiaki said. “But, despite that, I think he really did well to have come that close to winning.”
Lei Papale finished in sixth place. Soumillon said, “It was a good race, but, unfortunately, she encountered some interference at the turn.”
Trainer Tomokazu Takano expressed a bit more concern with the trip but praised the 4-year-old filly, a daughter of Deep Impact and winner of this year’s Grade 1 Osaka Hai.
“I think she put in a great effort. She was a bit slow getting into position and ended up racing amid the pack,” Takano said. “It was different from her usual style and though it wasn’t quite enough to be concerned about, she was barely maintaining her cool. The ground was rough and she wasn’t able to show her late speed. But she didn’t give up and did run solidly to the end. “
*The results of the Japanese horses are as follows:
* LONGINES HONG KONG CUP (2,000m, HKD 30 million, 16:30)
* LONGINES HONG KONG MILE (1,600m, HKD 26 million, 15:50)
* LONGINES HONG KONG SPRINT (1,200m, HKD 24 million, 14:40)
* LONGINES HONG KONG VASE (2,400m, HKD 20 million, 14:00)
# ( ) after race name notes distance, total prize money, post time (local time)
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