Champions Day Not For The Faint of Heart

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The 2020 renewal of FWD Champions Day was conducted on a misty and overcast Sunday afternoon at Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories, atmospheric conditions befitting the current state of racing in Hong Kong.

A recent spike in coronavirus cases has led to a re-tightening of social distancing requirements, meaning just a smattering of connections at the track on a day that typically draws upwards of 50,000 racegoers and meaning that foreign horses–in particular, those based in Japan–were unable to contest a meeting at which they have tasted considerable recent success.

The punters love backing their heavy favourites, and back them they did, with overall turnover of a remarkable HK$1.455 billion (£151.8 million/US$187.7 million). Boom 3-year-old Aethero (Aus) (Sebring {Aus}) was pounded into $20 (even money) in the G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize, while dual Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation (NZ) (Road to Rock {Aus}) was crunched into $16 (3-5) going for a third consecutive G1 FWD Champions Mile. While neither was able to get home first, under entirely different circumstances, dual champion Exultant (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) salvaged the day for the chalk bettors with a typically gritty victory at $15 (1-2) in the G1 FWD QE II Cup.

A 'Stunning' Chairman's Sprint Prize…

Mr Stunning (Aus) (Exceed and Excel {Aus}) gave Mauritian Karis Teetan his first Longines Hong Kong International Races when defending his title in the 2018 G1 Hong Kong Sprint and the duo teamed up to cause a 20-1 upset in Sunday's G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize.

Rousted along early to gain a position better than midfield, Mr Stunning, runner-up in this event two years ago, was covered up as Aethero galloped them along, mouth agape, down the side of the track. The 3-year-old turned them in, but he went from full to empty with a furlong and a half to travel. They lined up about five across the track at the 200m, with G2 Sprint Cup upsetter Voyage Warrior (Aus) (Declaration of War) just ahead of Big Time Baby (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}) and Thanks Forever (Aus) (Duporth {Aus}) deepest out, but Mr Stunning split Voyage Warrior and Hot King Prawn (Aus) (Denman {Aus}) with a sixteenth of a mile to race and powered home. Big Time Baby won a photo for second despite a three-wide passage, while Aethero was eased home, having bled badly from both nostrils.

“I just had so much horse underneath me–I was tracking a few horses who are decent enough to take me into the race and I was just waiting for a gap to open,” Teetan told HKJC's Declan Schuster. “This horse, his heart is bigger than him, so I knew he would let down as soon as he got that run.”

Aethero faces a three-month spell after the bleeding incident.

“It's disappointing but we'll make sure he's alright and then I'll sit down with the owner and we'll have to discuss the best thing for him,” Moore said.

South China Morning Post reported late Sunday that Moore plans on trying to convince Aethero's owners to send him to Australia, where Moore plans on continuing his career following his mandatory retirement at season's end.

Sunday, Sha Tin, Hong Kong
CHAIRMAN'S SPRINT PRIZE-G1, HK$18,000,000 (£1,877,366/€2,145,563/A$3,632,168/US$2,322,479), 3yo/up, 1200mT, 1:08.40, gd.
1–MR STUNNING (AUS), 126, g, 7, by Exceed and Excel (Aus)
1st Dam: With Fervour, by Dayjur
2nd Dam: Fran's Valentine, by Saros (GB)
3rd Dam: Iza Valentine, by Bicker
(A$110,000 Wlg '13 INGMAY; NZ$250,000 Ylg '14 NZBJAN). O-Maurice Koo Win Chong; B-Makybe Racing & Breeding (Vic); T-Frankie Lor; J-Karis Teetan; HK$10,260,000. Lifetime Record: 30-12-7-4, HK$60,843,100. Werk Nick Rating: D. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Big Time Baby (Ire), 126, g, 6, Dandy Man (Ire)-Royal Majestic (GB), by Tobougg (Ire). (€33,000 Wlg '14 GOFNOV; £45,000 Ylg '15 DONAUG). O-Golden Era Syndicate; B-Paul & Billy McEnery; T-Manfred Man; J-Matthew Chadwick; HK$3,960,000.
3–Thanks Forever (Aus), 126, g, 4, Duporth (Aus)–Cinecitta (Aus), by Exceed and Excel (Aus). (A$170,000 Ylg '17 MMGCYS). O-Patrick Ng Pak Hong; B-Mr AC Lloyd Jones (NSW); T-John Moore; J-Blake Shinn; HK$1,800,000.
Margins: 3/4, NO, HF. Odds: 20-1, 28-1, 83-10.
Also Ran: Hot King Prawn (Aus), Wishful Thinker (Aus), Jolly Banner (Aus), Voyage Warrior (Aus), D B Pin (NZ), Full of Beauty (Aus), Big Party (Aus), Aethero (Aus). Click for the HKJC.com chart, PPs, sectional timing and VIDEO. Click for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.

   Mr Stunning is easily the best produce from With Fervour, a daughter of 1985 GI Kentucky Oaks winner Fran's Valentine, making her a half-sister to five-times US Grade I-winning stayer With Anticipation (Relaunch) and an own sister to French GSW and multiple Group 1 placed With Fascination. Mr Stunning is one of 15 top-level scorers for Exceed and Excel, who is also the broodmare sire of third-placed Thanks Forever.

Breakthrough For 'Legend' in Champions Mile…

Boniface Ho's Southern Legend (Aus) (Not A Single Doubt {Aus}) has had the misfortune of facing Beauty Generation in Hong Kong's top events over 1400-1600m for the past three seasons, finishing behind the champ 10 times in their 11 head-to-head meetings. But the reliable 7-year-old was the recipient of a crafty ride from budding superstar jockey Vincent Ho and outslugged Beauty Generation in a thrilling renewal of the G1 FWD Champions Mile.

The odds-on gamble showed his typical gate speed and ultimately settled just to the outside of Ka Ying Star (GB) (Cityscape {GB}), with Southern Legend in about fifth position. Beauty Generation looked primed to fire his best shot, with Zac Purton hard against him as they overhauled Ka Ying Star with a minimum of fuss entering the final quarter mile. But Southern Legend, pulled out into the three path with 500m to race, was hitting his best stride, forcing Purton to go for Beauty Generation at the three-sixteenths peg. Southern Legend put a head in front at the furlong grounds, and though Beauty Generation laid his body down, fighting for every yard, Southern Legend got the most fortuitous of bobbers. Second choice Waikuku (Ire) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) could not take advantage of a rail-skimming trip and finished third, albeit soundly beaten.

Southern Legend had won the Kranji Mile in Singapore in each of the last two seasons and would otherwise have skipped Sunday's race for that virus-postponed event. Not a bad result for a Plan B.

“We had the opportunity to set Southern Legend and go for the Singapore race, to try and go for three wins in a row there, but when this virus hit we had to change plans pretty quickly,”  Caspar Fownes–winning his first international Group 1 since Lucky Nine (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) took the KrisFlyer International Sprint in at Kranji six years ago this May–told HKJC's David Morgan.

It was also a first top-level win for Ho, former apprentice to Fownes, who won last month's BMW Hong Kong Derby for Francis Lui.

“It's amazing,” Ho told Morgan. “There are no spectators here, but it's a Group 1! I've been working really hard for it and hopefully there are plenty more to come.”

John Moore intimated that Beauty Generation could yet train on into an 8-year-old season.

“I'd like to take him back for a mile race in Australia and then have him stay there at the Living Legends Farm,” he said. “That's what I'd like to do, but what the Kwok family wants to do is what counts, I don't know whether they'll keep racing him or retire him.”

Sunday, Sha Tin, Hong Kong
FWD CHAMPIONS MILE-G1, HK$20,000,000 (£2,086,512/€2,383,864/A$4,035,328/US$2,580,545), 3yo/up, 1600mT, 1:33.13, gd.
1–SOUTHERN LEGEND (AUS), 126, g, 7, by Not A Single Doubt (Aus)
1st Dam: Donna's Appeal (Aus), by Carnegie (Ire)
2nd Dam: Donna Natalia (Aus), by Anabaa
3rd Dam: Marskin (Aus), by Marscay (Aus)
1ST GROUP 1 WIN. (A$280,000 Ylg '14 INGEAS). O-Boniface Ho Ka Kui; B-Corumbene Stud (NSW); T-Caspar Fownes; J-Vincent Ho; HK$11,400,000. Lifetime Record: MSW-Sin, SW & MGSP-Aus, 40-12-3-7, HK$42,352,703. Werk Nick Rating: C+. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Beauty Generation (NZ), 126, g, 7, Road to Rock (Aus)–Stylish Bel (Aus), by Bel Esprit (Aus). (NZ$60,000 Ylg '14 NZBJAN). O-Patrick Kwok Ho Chuen; B-Nearco Stud Ltd; T-John Moore; J-Zac Purton; HK$4,400,000.
3–Waikuku (Ire), 126, g, 5, Harbour Watch (Ire)–London Plane (Ire), by Danehill Dancer (Ire). (€33,000 Ylg '16 TISEP). O-Jocelyn Siu Yang Hin Ting; B-Shane Molan; T-John Size; J-Joao Moreira; HK$2,000,000.
Margins: SHD, 2 3/4, NK. Odds: 9-1, 3-5, 37-10.
Also Ran: Rattan (NZ), More Than This (GB), Ka Ying Star (GB), Fat Turtle (Aus), Thinkin' Big (Aus). Scratched: Singapore Sling (SAf). Click for the HKJC.com chart, PPs, sectional timing and VIDEO. Click for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.

  Southern Legend is the 14th Group 1 winner for his now-retired sire and is a full-brother to Southern Appeal (Aus), winner of a Class 2 handicap at Wagga this past March. Donna's Appeal, a daughter of SW & MGSP Donna Natalia, is the dam of Southern Legend's 2-year-old full-sister Loveland, who is being retained to run by Corumbene Stud with Peter and Paul Snowden; and a weanling colt by Epaulette (Aus). Donna's Appeal was most recently served by Arrowfield's Dundeel (NZ) on a Nov. 21 cover date. Southern Legend's owner Boniface Ho also campaigns Australian Group 2 winner Classique Legend (Aus) (Not A Single Doubt {Aus}), the half-brother to beaten Chairman's Sprint Prize favourite Aethero.

Redemption for Purton, Exultant in QE II Cup…

Purton and Exultant found Japan's Win Bright (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}) a touch too strong in the 2019 G1 FWD QE II Cup, but they exacted their revenge Sunday with a tough, staying performance to see off last year's Hong Kong Derby hero and stablemate Furore (NZ) (Pierro {Aus}). The victory made Purton the first in history to post victories in all of Hong Kong's Group 1 races.

“The feeling going over the line–it was a combination of everything!” Purton told Morgan. “I've come close to winning this race so many times, it's been very frustrating and after missing the bob in the previous race, to win this was a sense of relief.”

With a short field signed on and with the memory of Time Warp (GB) (Archipenko)'s front-running score last time out in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup still fresh in his mind, Purton was intent on keeping Exultant closer to the pace, and the gelding was given a relatively positive ride from the stalls to take up a more forward position. Nevertheless, Time Warp was enjoying a fairly soft time of it on the engine, but knowing that he had the superior staying animal underneath him, Purton allowed Exultant to roll forward and put the leader to the sword with fully six furlongs to race. The tempo increased noticeably in the middle stages–the internal half-mile from the 1200m to the 400m was a wicked :45.41–and Time Warp was beginning to feel it when push came to shove. Exultant finally swatted that one away in upper stretch and, though he was by Purton's own admission 'running on empty' in the late stages, the dual Hong Kong champion willed himself to the wire first. Eagle Way (Aus) (More Than Ready) finished willingly to pick up third prize money for the second time in three years, while Hong Kong Derby runner-up Playa del Puente (Ire) (Elzaam {Aus}) did not disgrace in fourth.

“I didn't want a repeat of last time, that didn't go well for us,” Purton explained. “I had planned to be outside in the run but my guy showed no speed early, so I just had to wait until we got around that first corner and then allow him to move into the race.”

Sunday, Sha Tin, Hong Kong
FWD QE II CUP-G1, HK$25,000,000 (£2,608,140/€2,979,830/A$5,044,160/US$3,225,682), 3yo/up, 2000mT, 2:00, gd.
1–EXULTANT (IRE), 126, g, 6, by Teofilo (Ire)
1st Dam: Contrary (Ire), by Mark of Esteem (Ire)
2nd Dam: Crystal Gaze (Ire), by Rainbow Quest
3rd Dam: Jumilla, by El Gran Senor
O-Eddie Wong Ming Chak & Wong Leung Sau Hing; B-Ballygallon Stud Limited; T-Tony Cruz; J-Zac Purton; HK$14,250,000. Lifetime Record: Ch. Middle Distance Horse & Ch. Stayer-HK, G1SP-Ire, 28-12-7-4, HK$68,089,410. Werk Nick Rating: A+++ *Triple Plus*. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Furore (NZ), 126, g, 5, Pierro (Aus)–Stormy Choice (Aus), by Redoute's Choice (Aus). (NZ$210,000 Ylg '16 NZBJAN). O-Lee Sheung Chau; B-G S A Bloodstock Pty Ltd; T-Tony Cruz; J-Karis Teetan; HK$5,500,000.
3–Eagle Way (Aus), 126, g, 7, More Than Ready–Wedgetail Eagle (Aus), by Lure. (A$200,000 Ylg '14 INGEAS). O-Siu Pak Kwan; B-Segenhoe Thoroughbreds Australia Pty Ltd; T-John Mooore; J-Neil Callan; HK$2,500,000.
Margins: 3/4, 2HF, 1 1/4. Odds: 1-2, 26-5, 24-1.
Also Ran: Playa del Puente (Ire), Time Warp (GB), Glorious Dragon (Ire), Elusive State (Aus). Click for the HKJC.com chart, PPs, sectional timing and VIDEO. Click for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.

Exultant, third to Churchill (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and future two-time G1 Dubai World Cup hero Thunder Snow (Ire) (Helmet {Aus}) in the 2017 G1 Irish 2000 Guineas when trained as Irishcorrespondent by Michael Halford, is out of a half-sister to Irish highweight and GSW Caspian Prince (Ire) (Dylan Thomas {Ire}) as well as MGSW/G1SP Italian champion Spirit Quartz (Invincible Spirit {Ire}). Ironically, Exultant's yearling relation is a March-foaled filly by Churchill.

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