Peniaphobia goes one better in Hong Kong Sprint

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December 13th, 2015

After just missing in his quest to become the first three-year-old winner of the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) in 2014, Peniaphobia prevailed in Sunday’s renewal with a display of high speed. Blasting from the far outside post and angling over to the fence with surprising ease, he held off favored Gold-Fun in a clean sweep for the local sprinters. Mongolian Saturday finished a commendable fifth, best of the internationals.

Peniaphobia’s far outside post had appeared a detriment, especially since he’d been beaten by Gold-Fun in similar circumstances in the prep, the November 21 Jockey Club Sprint (G2). But trainer Tony Cruz was adamant that Peniaphobia stick to the script, and use his early dash to negate the poor draw.

Top jockey Joao Moreira executed the game plan to perfection, racking up a memorable 300th win in Hong Kong, and lifting Cruz to a record seventh victory in the Hong Kong International Races. Cruz had entered Sunday tied with trainer John Moore in the HKIR record book.

Once Peniaphobia secured his early coup out of the gate, Moreira was able to gather him in, dictate in comfortable fashion, and deliver the coup de grace entering the stretch. Japan’s Mikki Isle was in pursuit, but couldn’t match Peniaphobia’s decisive burst and proved one-paced.

Mongolian Saturday, in striking range on the outside, floated even wider when trying to negotiate the unfamiliar right turn. The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) hero still boxed on for the duration without managing to quicken like the locals.

Meanwhile, Gold-Fun was launching his rally from farther back, and Not Listenin’tome was moving into contention from his stalking spot. The two were gradually gaining on Peniaphobia, and Gold-Fun soon emerged as the nearer threat. Yet the favorite wasn’t getting there fast enough, and Peniaphobia held on by a half-length. His final time for about six furlongs on Sha Tin’s good course was 1:08.74.

Gold-Fun recorded the fastest final 400 meters in :22.48, and probably wondered why Peniaphobia didn’t have a harder time up front this time. You’ve got to feel for Gold-Fun, who had also finished second in the past two runnings of the Hong Kong Mile (G1). Moreover, the converted miler had beaten Peniaphobia in their prior meetings, until Sunday.

Not Listenin’tome, twice a Group 1 runner-up in his native Australia, measured up to this level again in an even tougher spot. There could be still more to come from the five-year-old. Dundonnell, Gold-Fun’s stablemate from the Richard Gibson yard, excelled himself to get up for fourth.

Mongolian Saturday (blue bridle) was beaten a grand total of 4 1/2 lengths despite feeling at sea going the wrong way – and at a trip that stretches him. He may be more competitive in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) down Meydan’s straightaway, but then again, a straight five-furlong dash may also stretch him. Fellow U.S. shipper Green Mask wound up eighth, not helped by having to deal with a foot bruise earlier in the week. Green Mask also drifted out in the stretch, doing Straight Girl no favors, before wandering back in.

Mikki Isle checked in seventh, compatriot Straight Girl didn’t factor as a wide-trip ninth, Lucky nine may be feeling his age in 10th, and fellow veteran Sole Power turned in his worst HKIR effort in 11th. Strathmore, who was attracting interest as a dark horse, was withdrawn after testing positive for clenbuterol.

Peniaphobia was snapping a six-race losing streak. After capturing the January 25 Centenary Sprint Cup at about five down the straight, the Dandy Man gelding was fourth to Gold-Fun in the February 15 Chairman’s Sprint Prize, second to Sole Power in the Al Quoz, and fourth to Dundonnell and Gold-Fun in the April 26 Sprint Cup. Peniaphobia was rounding into form through his fall preps, finishing third to Able Friend and Gold-Fun in the October 25 Premier Bowl and a game second (again to Gold-Fun) in the Jockey Club Sprint. As a four-year-old gelding, Peniaphobia should be a star in this division for a long time.

Selected quotes from the Hong Kong Jockey Club

Trainer Tony Cruz on Peniaphobia: "He has a lot of early speed so you've got to use it. I thought he could cross them and Joao (Moreira) could relax him and wait for the straight.

"We'll definitely enter for Dubai and maybe think about England as well.”

Jockey Joao Moreira on Peniaphobia: “I used him a little bit to get across but he came back to me and gave me a beautiful ride. It's not that hard when you're talking about a good horse. He's so professional.

 "He's been knocking on the door a few times and he made it today. Thank God I was aboard, he was meant to win the race.”

Jockey Christophe Soumillon on runner-up Gold-Fun: “He broke fine I had a good trip but no one chased the leader they slowed down on the turn but I just didn’t have enough to come and get them.”

Jockey Florent Geroux on fifth-placer Mongolian Saturday: “He ran good. Great trip, was forwardly placed, let the speed go. He was relaxed but maybe a little too relaxed. He was a little surprised and never really took the bit. He didn’t know what to do. He was focused better early in the race but from the quarter-pole to the end, he was a little confused. The experience of this kind of trip will help him.”

Jockey Joel Rosario on Green Mask (eighth): “He ran nice and handled the bend fine. Maybe he was a little closer than he is used to. Anyway, he kept trying to the end.”


Photos courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.