Beaten on four favourites and some choice parade ring feedback from a fervent punter for his troubles – Sunday was a day to forget for Joao Moreira, as well as a swag of Hong Kong’s up-and-coming stars looking to make an impact at December’s Hong Kong International Races.
Moreira has now gone winless in consecutive meetings for the first time since April and the Brazilian was aboard the beaten favourites in both of the weekend’s Group Two features – Courier Wonder in the Premier Bowl (1,200m) and Sky Darci in the Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m).
Caspar Fownes labelled Sky Darci’s eighth in the Sha Tin Trophy a “waste of a run” and if the breeze blowing over the top of the Sha Tin stables was carrying a giggle, it might have been emanating from the box of Golden Sixty after Hong Kong’s best stayer Panfield walked home in a race run at a pedestrian pace.
Panfield impressed in his first run since winning the Group One Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) and looks primed for a big preparation, while Columbus County, Russian Emperor and the unlucky Glorious Dragon did enough to suggest they will improve stepping up in trip.
Waikuku is a two-time Group One winner and he will come on from his first run since April after fading late, while Tourbillon Diamond stuck on OK as the second favourite after travelling wide.
Any suggestions Sky Darci could be the one to challenge Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Mile will have to wait until another day to gain credence, however.
They went out slow – the best part of six lengths below average for the first 800m – and came home .22 of a second outside standard for the final 400m thanks to a stiff headwind.
Moreira found himself last in the run, telling stewards he’d hoped to be just behind midfield but circumstances meant he ended up racing further back than originally planned.
He cornered for home next to Preciousship but while Vagner Borges took the $19 chance out towards the middle of the track – where every winner on the day came from – and ran on to finish second, Moreira chanced his arm by heading back towards the rail.
The result was this year’s Hong Kong Derby winner encountering heavy traffic for most of the straight and never getting his chance to properly let down as less than three lengths covered the field as they crossed the line.
While Moreira maintains Sky Darci “should have won the race, I was very unlucky not to be able to get a split”, there was certainly nothing about the contest that suggested Golden Sixty will be relinquishing his crown as Hong Kong’s top miler any time soon.
Two races earlier the buzz that has been building around the rejuvenation of the Hong Kong sprinting ranks was dulled somewhat in a contest that, while it didn’t see any bubbles burst as such, did kill some momentum.
With Hong Kong’s only sprinters boasting top-line success in Hot King Prawn and Wellington absent, the scene was set for the new wave to make their mark but what shaped as one of the jurisdiction’s best races in some time left many feeling a little hollow.
Lucky Patch was a worthy winner, no doubt, but $2.30 shot Courier Wonder and Naboo Attack ($3.20) disappointed punters, while Blake Shinn is hopeful Sky Field will be better ridden quieter after he faded into 10th following a box-seat run under the top weight.
Giant galloper Naboo Attack was only moderately away and never had a chance to build momentum in what trainer David Hayes labelled “a total forgive”, at one point inconvenienced by Courier Wonder as Moreira again tried to weave his way through traffic near the rail as the winner stormed down the middle of the track.
While Courier Wonder’s blistering winning streak ended at five, Moreira assured fans he is still on track to “be a genuine Group One horse” and expects the four-year-old to take plenty out of the run after racing further back in the field than ever before in his first outing since May.
“Courier Wonder was obviously not ready and he is obviously better than that,” Moreira said.
A lot of questions went unanswered on Sunday but if one thing is certain, it’s that Moreira will bounce back sooner rather than later – he’s a four-time champion jockey for a reason. There’s every reason to believe Courier Wonder, Sky Darci, Naboo Attack and Sky Field have plenty more to give as well