IMPRESSIVE DRESS rehearsal performances were the order at Sha Tin on Sunday as Waikuku, Exultant and Aethero tuned up for their respective runs on the Hong Kong International Races card on 8 December in some style. While Waikuku denied Beauty Generation in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, Exultant claimed the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup over a 1m2f trip and Aethero made light work of the rest of his rivals in the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint when winning by two lengths. All three Group Two contests were part of a ten race card that witnessed a high level of competition in a series of handicaps that made up the undercard.
In the Jockey Club Mile, John Moore’s Beauty Generation ridden by Zac Purton was favourite and the 7yo Road To Rock gelding started in some style. Having leapt well he went clear early on in the company of Ka Ying Star, who had Karis Teetan aboard. The pair put nearly four lengths between them and the rest of the field with Waikuku chasing them, seemingly content in third. Beauty Generation appeared to roll along comfortably alongside Ka Ying Star, but that blistering early pace seemed to take its toll on the pair halfway into the contest as Waikuku and the rest of the hunting party closed in quickly. Waikuku and rider Joao Moreira were happy on the rail, but once Beauty Generation left the inside as the field swung into the straight, Moreira urged Waikuku and he sprung forward sprinting briskly to take victory by almost a length from Ka Ying Star, who crept in on the outside to pip Beauty Generation to second by a length.
Happy to see his charge size up his opponents, Waikuku’s trainer John Size was quick to point at Beauty Generation as favourite for the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile. “Beauty Generation will still have his fans and he’s going to run under different circumstances on the big day so I think he’ll probably hold his place. He’ll be the horse to beat again,” Size said. It was a bolt out of the blue moment for winning jockey Moreira, with the Brazilian rider admitting: “It was a surprise, but it was a good surprise! “When we were turning for home, Ka Ying Star wasn’t giving ground. He was holding me in there and I was forced to hold and hope the gap would come inside the leader Beauty Generation.
“Once it came, my horse was full on. He just went for it and didn’t hesitate to go through. Good horses do it, they go through small gaps and he has proven himself.” It was Beauty Generation’s second straight third place finish, but trainer Moore although deflated was confident of his charge bouncing back at the right time. “Zac said don’t worry about that run, he’ll come back,” Moore said. “He said we just need to tweak something to make sure on the big day that he’ll kick. We just need to find out what because he’s not finding that usual kick. Today was a repeat of what he did when he was beaten in his second start.” Tony Cruz’s Exultant helped Purton overcome his disappointment in the Mile, the Teofilo gelding proving his class amply in the 1m2f Jockey Club Cup, showing he is ready for his title defence in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase.
Siblings Glorious Forever and Time Warp set the pace with Exultant sitting in fourth. Purton asked him to go with half a mile left and moved him to the outside to make it a leading group of three that turned for home. And with his rider asking for more, Exultant picked up pace further to zip away with FC Lor’s Furore, ridden by Hugh Bowman, giving chase all the way to the finish only to be placed second, a length and a quarter behind. Purton said: “He ran well first up so there were no concerns for me about him getting back to his best, he just had to get to a distance that was suitable. “We went very hard through the first half of the race and I was surprised when Joao Moreira still tried to take off, but it flushed me out and meant I had to go.
“But I knew my horse was capable of doing that, so it wasn’t the end of the world for me. I just hope this hasn’t been a gut buster prior to his grand final.” Trainer Cruz was satisfied with the performance of Hong Kong’s reigning Champion Stayer and suggested Exultant is on track to perhaps better last season’s haul of three Group Ones. “Everything has gone smoothly this season, I’m very happy with his condition and he seems to be a better horse this year,” Cruz said. A race later and it was Moore’s turn to celebrate as Aethero provided the cheer and what was perhaps the most dominating performance of the day in the Jockey Club Sprint, the distance prep for the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint.
Having taken keen hold, the 3yo Sebring gelding made all under Karis Teetan to win by two lengths from last year’s winner Hot King Prawn in a time of 1m7.58s which was eight hundredths of a second outside the mark set by Sacred Kingdom 12 years ago. Another big sprint name on the island, Beat The Clock took third a further length behind. Moore predicted a new track record but he wasn’t disappointed with Aethero falling only just short. “The sky is the limit. When Karis jumped off he said ‘he kicked like Able Friend!’ said Moore in reference to his past champion, with whom Aethero bears a striking physical resemblance. Aethero will shoulder 117lb in the Hong Kong Sprint, while his rivals will carry 126lb.
Moore added: “It was impressive and just outside the track record, but he was carrying a postage stamp. Hot King Prawn carried 10lb more and still closed off with no previous run this season. “But, saying that, his run was great. He’s still only a 3yo and he did everything right: he jumped away from the blocks and was across to the lead from gate nine there and he did it under his own steam. “We’ll go to the Hong Kong Sprint now and it’s an international Group One so his work will be cut out but you can’t ask anything more and he’ll still have a nice weight concession as a Southern Hemisphere 3yo.”