Fifty Fifty (No.12) holds on to win the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By David Morgan
Joao Moreira and John Size dominated the New Year’s action at Sha Tin Racecourse this morning, Monday, 1 January, with five wins for the champion jockey and four for the champion trainer, but the day’s feature eluded their grasp.
The axis had to settle for second in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) with Beat The Clock (115lb). The improving Fifty Fifty (113lb) had the 1.8 favourite’s measure in a thrilling tussle between two of Hong Kong’s rising stars that lifted the 85,000-strong holiday crowd.
The G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at the end of the month now beckons for the Peter Ho-trained victor.
“If he comes out of this race in good form we will definitely consider the Stewards’ Cup. I can't find another mile race for him, so this is my plan,” Ho said.
“He’s a tough horse, when Beat The Clock came to him, he fought again. He has a big heart and he’ll be a better miler.”
Fifty Fifty went into the traditional New Year’s feature with a rising profile after three wins from only five Hong Kong starts. But although the grey took his place in the 12-runner field off a featherweight 113lb, the 98-rated five-year-old did so from 8lb out of the handicap.
“I was very confident about this race, even though he was running from out of the handicap,” Ho said. “The horse keeps on improving and his condition is even better than last time. He won earlier when he was only 70 percent or 80 percent fit.”
Fifty Fifty slotted into an ideal berth, stalking the front pair of Peniaphobia (128lb) and Dashing Fellow (121lb) in a one-off position. When Teetan shifted out on the final turn, Fifty Fifty clicked up his pace and cruised to lead at the 350m mark. Shaken up for the win, the New Zealand-bred accelerated towards the wire with Beat The Clock in close pursuit.
“He’s the type of horse that you can switch off and go, and nothing bothered him today – when I pressed him he really responded,” Teetan said of the 4/1 chance.
When Beat The Clock drew alongside Fifty Fifty with 200m to race in the penultimate contest, it appeared for a moment that Moreira might add a sixth triumph to his day’s work. But the winner was always in command; bossing his opponent; lugging across to dominate for a half-length score in a time of 1m 21.10s, the fastest at the course and distance this term.
“He saw Joao’s horse come and he wanted to run onto him a little bit. I just think he’s still learning about things, but every time he races he gets better. Today was a really tough task and I think we’ve all learnt something.
“He was taking on big horses, so there was a concern about whether he would be up to it, but he’s a good horse and you don't keep good horses in the stable. He’ll be better again when he goes back to the mile.”
Moreira stormed to five wins in the first eight races, raising the prospect that the Brazilian might equal his Hong Kong record of eight wins in a day through the afternoon’s final three contests. That possibility ended in race nine, and Beat The Clock’s defeat lessened Moreira’s chances of riding a third stand-alone six-timer at the track – Lockheed was an unlucky fourth for the champ in the finale.
“In the last 50 metres I knew Beat The Clock wasn’t going to get past Fifty Fifty,” Moreira said, “and at the line I was well beaten – he was already running away from me. I think 1400 is just stretching my horse.”
The field contained five G1 winners and two of those ran with merit under big weights. The John Moore-trained Helene Paragon (133lb) kept on to take third with a final 400m split of 22.27s, a further three quarters of a length back, while Beauty Only (132lb) closed to fourth through a final sectional of 22.25s.
“Tommy (Berry) got off and said he’ll be winning the Stewards’ Cup again after that run,” Moore said of Helene Paragon.
Moreira kicked off 2018 with a win atop the David Ferraris-trained Soccer Brave (12/1) in the opener. He achieved his next four wins in tandem with Size: Nice Kick (3.4) in race four, Unicron Jewellery (6.5) in race five, Infinity Endeavour (3.5) in the seventh, and an exciting two-length score atop the unbeaten four-year-old Conte (1.3) in the eighth, the Class 3 Sunset Peak Handicap (1400m).
“It’s been a fantastic day overall, that’s what I call a happy New Year!” Moreira beamed.
Outside of the Moreira/Size supremacy, Super Missile (128lb) was a warm order to win race six, the second section of the Class 4 Grassy Handicap (1200m). Those that backed the 1.7 favourite were put through the mill, though, with the second starter stuck in a pocket for much of the home straight. When clear ground appeared at the 150m point, jockey Zac Purton fired his mount in pursuit of eventual runner-up Lucky Lucky (122lb), and the Frankie Lor-trained three-year-old sprinted late to nick the verdict on the nod by a nose. The win left Purton eight behind Moreira in the title race.
Earlier, Nash Rawiller drove Viva Council (133lb) to a half-length win over fellow top-weight Amazing Always in race two. That brought a first Hong Kong success at start 12 for the Ho-trained 4.7 chance.
In the next, Chad Schofield displayed plenty of strength down the home run to ensure 10/1 shot Wushu Champion broke his local maiden at start 14 for trainer Richard Gibson, who completed a double in the finale thanks to the Alexis Badel-ridden Kingsfield (22/1).
Schofield wrapped up a brace aboard Bring It On in race nine, the Class 3 Lin Fa Shan Handicap (1800m). Dennis Yip’s charge was returned at 6.9 for his first Hong Kong victory at start 16.
Turnover was a new record for the day at HK$1.651 billion, while the attendance was 85,124 – down marginally on the 2017 record.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin on Sunday, 7 January.