A Shin Hikari turns in front-running tour de force in Hong Kong Cup

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December 13th, 2015

Everyone knew that A Shin Hikari was going to motor early in Sunday’s Hong Kong Cup (G1). What wasn’t as easy to predict was that no one in the world-class field would catch him. Under a textbook front-running ride by Yutaka Take, the son of Deep Impact kept on galloping and held compatriot Nuovo Record’s late rally to crown a big night for Japan. One race prior to the Japanese exacta in the Cup, Maurice snapped nine years of local dominance in the Hong Kong Mile (G1).

A Shin Hikari has now won nine of 11 career starts, but he was overlooked here after a disappointing ninth in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) at Tokyo. He hadn’t made the early lead that day, and unable to find his rhythm as a stalker, he compounded. Previously, the Masanori Sakaguchi charge had wired three straight, notably fending off Satono Aladdin by a neck in the June 14 Epsom Cup (G3) and landing the October 11 Mainichi Okan (G2). This was a significantly tougher test of class, over a trip he hadn’t seen since last year.

Initially supposed to get a break after the Tenno Sho Autumn, connections had a change of heart, and A Shin Hikari rewarded the decision. He scampered from his wide post, grabbed command, and settled into a tempo fast enough to keep him bowling along happily in stride. Dan Excel tracked in second, and Irish invader Free Eagle was perched in third.

Although the stalkers crept closer on the far turn, Take had a lot more up his sleeve. A Shin Hikari spurted away upon straightening for home, and the rest of the field was suddenly in trouble. Free Eagle dropped away tamely in an anticlimax to his career, ultimately crossing the wire last.

Nuovo Record made late headway along the inside, Blazing Speed stayed on determinedly, and defending champion Designs on Rome flashed home from the tail of the field, but the winner was gone. A Shin Hikari had a length to spare while completing about 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.60 on the good course.

Although Nuovo Record rattled her final split in :22.71, fastest of anyone in the field, she had to settle for yet another Group 1 placing. Since beating Harp Star in last year’s Japanese Oaks (G1), she’s just missed in the Shuka Sho (G1) and two straight renewals of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto. Is she becoming Japan’s answer to Flintshire?

Blazing Speed ran to form, while Designs on Rome deserves extra credit for his effort, in his second start back from surgery. Australian shipper Lucia Valentina also rallied with distinction for fifth, defeating Hong Kong mainstay Military Attack. The more accomplished Australian, Criterion, was a lackluster ninth, perhaps over the top after a strong Spring Carnival. The other Japanese runners, Staphanos and Satono Aladdin, also failed to give their true running in 10th and 11th, respectively.

Selected quotes from the Hong Kong Jockey Club:

Trainer Masanori Sakaguchi on A Shin Hikari: "He usually has a difficult temperament but he was more relaxed than usual today so I felt good he would show his very good talent today. The horse will now get a vacation."

Jockey Yutaka Take on A Shin Hikari: "The horse was in very good condition so I had much confidence going into the race. The horse sometimes has a difficult temperament, but he's in good form so I thought he had a very good chance. Traveling to Hong Kong will be very suitable for him in the future."

Jockey Ryan Moore on runner-up Nuovo Record: "She came here with a rating of 112 and that's just wrong. She was underrated. I'm very pleased with her, she ran a cracker. The other one was just too good on the day."

Jockey Neil Callan on third-placer Blazing Speed: “For Blazing Speed to have to be niggled along -- the pace was pretty strong. He was well-balanced, he went into a nice rhythm and when I came off the corner I thought the race was mine for the taking. I was waiting for the one to stop in front but it actually went a length again, so fair dos to the winner. But my horse has run an incredible race.”

Jockey Damien Oliver on Lucia Valentina (fifth): “She ran enormous. I reckon she’d have won eight out of 10 Group 1 races in Australia on that performance.”

Jockey Pat Smullen on Free Eagle (13th): “I think the travel to Hong Kong must have taken a lot out of him. He had a lovely position but once we straightened up he flattened out very quickly. He did not show the turn of foot we know he has.”


Top photo courtesy of Tomoya Moriuchi/

Second photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.