By Hans Ebert
Some of the natives were getting restless on Sunday. The usual May Day protests- this time against parallel goods traders- were about to get into full swing until it was aborted at the last minute. These days, organised protests in Hong Kong that, too often, deteriorate into organised chaos is something of an everyday occurrence in a very fractured city waiting for someone or something to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
What’s always extraordinary to many who live here is that horse racing continues as if in some parallel universe. At Shatin on Sunday, it was about two different kinds of imports- the equine kind where two of the best horses in the world competed on the eleven race card.
By now, the devastating win of Australia’s Chautauqua to come from the clouds- some watching the race on television didn’t even see the Team Hawkes-trained and Tommy Berry-ridden champion descend on its hapless rivals until it had crossed the line- to take out the Group One Chairman’s Sprint. Berry is at one with the horse as he is with Hong Kong’s Designs On Rome, and his timing- his ability to temper his own excitement and time his run to perfection- must be applauded.
Chautauqua is one of the best things that could happen to racing. Everyone loves a champion and Chautauqua fits the bill- in spades. But what sets him apart and makes him a marketable treasure for racing is quite simply an “excitement machine”. Properly marketed, he is a natural drawcard to get both fringe racegoers and sports lovers through the turnstiles. From his standout steel grey colour and imposing presence to the most seductive X factor in horse racing – the ability to give his rivals an impossible start from the rear of the field and produce his trademark breathtaking finish to turn mission impossible into reality. He did it again on Sunday, missing the start, staying at the rear of the field until they straightened up, and then sweeping down the outside of the straight to win untouched. Not many horses can make it look all so easy. But that’s what Chautauqua did and does. And it’s what brings people to the races.
Often, what appears to be easy victories can never happen unless man and horse truly know each other. Team Hawkes, Tommy Berry and Chautauqua are one. This was a magnificent win for the visiting team and Hong Kong was privileged to play host to the occasion. Take a bow, Mark Player for helping to attract this marquee value act to the city just as he did with that other import named Maurice.
Japan’s Maurice had already shown racing fans what a brilliant horse he is by winning on Hong Kong International Day with Ryan Moore on top.
With the brilliant Moore to later that day make his presence felt at Newmarket for his retained stable Coolmore, the powerful Japanese connections turned to Joao Moreira to drive the machine home in the Champions Mile.
Being the epitome of the total horseman, the Brazilian magic man could barely contain his amazement after working the horse the day before the race when interviewed by Edward Sadler. Joao Moreira cannot and wouldn’t know how to play it cool and be nonchalant. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his enthusiasm is infectious.
When Maurice ambled up and blew his rivals away, Moreira looked to be in awe and in a daze. He hadn’t just ridden a very very good horse, he had ridden a machine- a terminator named Maurice. Maurice. The name almost seems too placid, too ordinary for this extraordinary horse.
For Hong Kong racing it was a red letter day. Two great world champions – the world’s best sprinter and the world’s best miler competing on the same day in two separate international Group Ones. It’s like having seen the Beatles and Rolling Stones on the same bill. The last time we saw two of the world’s greatest world champions of the modern era racing on the same card was when Frankel and Black Caviar competed during the Royal Ascot carnival. But even then, they competed during the carnival and not on the same day.
Of course, racing has its ups and downs and both Group races had their fair share of hard luck stories though none would ever have reversed the results. Lucky Bubbles ran an excellent second to Chautauqua whereas Amazing Kids should have finished much closer. Disappointing was the performance of Thewizardofoz, who we are told has injury issues, and one wonders what must be going through trainer John Size’s head.
The other great Australian hope Buffering tailed off last and was found to be lame, but the rising eight year old has gone where very few horses have gone before and accomplished what very others will ever achieve in their careers. Trainer Robert Heathcote is wonderful for racing- a humble man who has no ego and is understated at best. He, along with regular rider Damien Browne, know The Buff and will decide the champion’s future after a well-deserved rest.
Elsewhere on the card, Kei Chiong rode another terrific double that saw her outride her ten pound allowance, and now, as a seven pound claiming apprentice, young Kei will have another hurdle to overcome. This should be no problem.
She’s a tough little thing who’s being superbly mentored by the great South African rider Felix Coetzee, and has already proven her detractors wrong. She’s improving all the time, horses travel for her, and, depending on her availability, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the once lethal C Team of Cruz and Coetzee add a new C to the history books- Chiong- Kei Chiong.
Meanwhile, the great Gerald Mosse bowed out of Hong Kong racing according to the script when Malmsteem led all the way in the last race of the day with Joao Moreira and Tommy Berry closing in on their mounts, but probably also willing the French maestro to say Adieu with a winner.
Hong Kong racing has been the winner having Gerald Mosse on its jockey roster. Mosse’s CV is littered with Group Ones, not just in Hong Kong, but all over Europe. He has always been a class act and has that uncanny ability to rise to another level when the black type races were and are up for grabs. And let’s never forget his incredible partnership with the great Red Cadeaux.
Gerald Mosse might have ridden his last race in Hong Kong, but we’re willing to bet he’ll be back and become part of racing in this city in some capacity. His experience will always be needed.
As for the HKJC, after Sunday’s races, the bar has again been raised. In Australia, Racing.com gave the meeting the promotion it deserved. In Hong Kong, the information provided to form students and everyone else was superb. Even the coverage by Sky Thoroughbred from Race six onwards was uninterrupted and not the dog’s breakfast it has been. They have been listening. And though, both the English and Chinese broadcast teams are still trying to find their feet- it was great to see- and hear- race caller Brett Davis not only prove he’s come of age on this big day, but how he’s also become one of the best in the world.