Joao Moreira took the bull by the horns to win his first Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin today, Sunday, 30 April, as Neorealism repelled Pakistan Star’s late rally to ensure a fourth Japanese victory in the HK$20 million feature.
“It’s so special to win such a race, and a race that I haven't won before. The first is always very special!” Moreira said after crossing the line a fist-pumping neck ahead of the Hong Kong Derby runner-up, with last year’s APQEII victor, Werther, a further short-head away in third. The winning time was 2m 04.59s.
The Noriyuki Hori-trained Neorealism had been pinned as a likely leader in the eight-runner field, but after missing the kick Moreira slotted in towards the back of the pack. Australian raider The United States found himself the reluctant pace-setter under Brett Prebble, but, after that rival dictated pedestrian opening 400-metre splits of 28.03s and 26.77s, Moreira decided enough was enough – approaching the 1000m point, the champion jockey released some slack and the 4.5 chance rolled to the fore.
“He didn’t really jump as well as we expected,” the Brazilian said. “We thought he was going to be able to lead but as he jumped a little bit slowly I had to give him a chance to get cover behind horses. The pace slowed so much on the back straight so I had to pop out and get going. He got going but he wasn't at his top speed, so I was always confident that once we turned for home he was going to finish off strongly, which he did. It actually worked out pretty good because I was able to get him relaxed initially.”
That move sent Pakistan Star from a close-up third, one-back on the fence, to four and a half lengths fifth and pumping at the 700m mark.
Up ahead, with his rivals measured and weighed, Moreira shook the reins at the turn-in and crouched for the drive home. The flashy Japanese raider responded with every stride, holding off his immediate challengers Blazing Speed and Werther and then lunging determinedly to withstand Pakistan Star’s late thrust.
“He doesn’t seem to be a horse that would sit and sprint, so the early move, I think, was the key to getting him to win,” Moreira added. “Mr. Hori gave me the freedom in case things happened the way they did today – I would have gone a little bit earlier, but I think it worked out perfectly this way. Japanese horses are strong everywhere they go!”
The six-year-old chestnut, ninth on his only previous visit to Sha Tin when below par in December’s G1 Hong Kong Mile, followed Eishin Preston (2002, 2003) and Rulership (2012) as a Japanese winner of the spring feature. For Hori, it was a fifth win in Hong Kong from 11 starters – equating to five G1 wins at the course in the past 17 months, which makes him the overseas trainer with the most G1 wins in Hong Kong history.
“In December he had had a tough programme and it was difficult for him to keep his condition,” Hori said. “But he learned a lot from that and that helped him on this second visit to Hong Kong and he was able to improve on that.
“We talked about race tactics and possible patterns before the race but Joao gave him the best ride. Joao rode him in morning track work so he got to know a bit about the horse and that was good for him.”
The 2015 JRA champion trainer will look at all options for the Neo Universe entire – a three parts brother to dual-hemisphere stallion Real Impact. Neorealism was notching a first win at the elite level after G2 wins in last August’s Sapporo Kinen (2000m) – when he defeated three-time Sha Tin G1 winner Maurice – and February’s G2 Nakayama Kinen (1800m).
“There are some options,” Hori said, “not only domestically but also international races, so we will check the horse when he gets back to Japan and then we will see where we go with him.”
Silvestre de Sousa was visibly deflated upon dismounting Pakistan Star in the runner-up spot. The Tony Cruz-trained galloper continued his meteoric rise through the ranks – less than 10 months after a brilliant debut win – but was unable to claw back Neorealism despite another sensational closing stretch run in which he clocked a searing 21.95s for the final 400m.
The Shamardal gelding, a graduate of the March 2016 Hong Kong International Sale and the market’s 2.8 second pick, was uncharacteristically sharp from the gate and raced keenly to the first turn as de Sousa attempted to settle with cover.
“He ran a very good race,” the Brazilian said. “The pace was just too slow early. He got left behind when they sprinted but finished off so well.”
Australian ace Hugh Bowman, the man in the spotlight 12 months ago following the John Moore-trained Werther’s wide-margin win, had to settle for third this time.
“Werther acquitted himself well,” he said of the even-money favourite. “It was very slow in the middle stages and that didn't suit him. I thought the sprint home would suit but the Japanese horse just got a break on us.”
Moreira rode a five-timer on the day, including a score aboard the Moore-trained Eagle Way in the day’s second feature, the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m).
A crowd of 33,208 watched the thrilling action unfold, while the day’s turnover was a record HK$1.434 billion – up more than six percent on last year.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 3 May.