Maurice makes mark in Group 1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin

Maurice wins the Champions Mile at at Hong Kong easily, beating out a quality field at Sha Tin.
Maurice wins the Champions Mile at at Hong Kong easily, beating out a quality field at Sha Tin.

Japan’s Horse of the Year, Maurice, put on a masterclass in the HK$14 million Champions Mile to cap a sensational day at Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday.

Champion Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira enjoyed an untroubled passage astride the Noriyuki Hori-trained bay, sent off at $1.75 with Sportsbet to become only the second overseas winner of the race after Variety Club in 2014.

Moreira perhaps summed up Maurice’s performance best. “He was brilliant!” he said.

Spare a thought for ex-pat Aussie Brett Prebble who finished second onboard Contentment, after earlier in the day being left in Chautauqua’s dust in the Chairman’s Sprint.

“A machine,” Prebble said of Maurice, after finishing two lengths behind.

Settled a handy fourth – Contentment inside and clear ground to his outer – tracking the pace-setting Beauty Flame and close attendant Rewarding Hero, Maurice eased three wide on the turn for home as the front duo began to toil.

With Beauty Flame mining his last reserves at the 300m point, Moreira shook the reins and Maurice responded with immediacy. Within 50m Japan’s hero had quickened ahead, the result sealed. Moreira saluted the winning post in a time of 1m 34.08s – the five-year-old champ’s final 400m split a searing 21.79s.

“He was lucky to get such a good position in the race, which gave me plenty of options to put him out whenever I wanted,” Moreira said.

“He gave me so much confidence that he was going to get there any time that I was going to press the button. When I gave him the daylight he just started to get going by himself and showed what he is capable of. He’s a lovely horse and I think he can step up to a longer distance. I’m very blessed to have been given an opportunity to ride this horse today.”

The win was the seventh in succession for Maurice. The Screen Hero entire was having his first start since a brilliant triumph at the course and distance in December’s Group 1 Hong Kong Mile, a race in which, ridden by Ryan Moore, he drove past Hong Kong’s own high-weight, last year’s Champions Mile winner Able Friend. Maurice now has four group 1 wins on his curriculum vitae with a career record of nine wins from 14 starts.

“I’m extremely happy to have won the Hong Kong Mile at the international meeting in December and to come back and follow up in the Champions Mile today,” winning trainer Hori said. “It’s a pleasure to come here and I’m happy for the win, I’d like to thank Joao for giving the horse a great ride.”

Prebble was delighted with the run of the John Size-trained Contentment, on whom he won the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) at the track back in February.

“He’s run super, he’s been beaten by a machine,” he said, an unmistakable tone of admiration to his voice. “He could’ve gone another 400m, the winner.”

Packing Pins, one of Hong Kong’s deep crop of aspiring stars, ran on for a career best third for trainer Ricky Yiu and jockey Gerald Mosse.

“He’s a lovely horse – he has big potential,” said the veteran French rider. “He was fighting to the line – I think the distance today was perfect. I switched behind the first two, he gave me a beautiful run and I’m very pleased.”

The Tony Cruz-trained Beauty Only rattled home centre track for fourth under Neil Callan.

“He’s run another solid race, probably against the best miler in the world,” said Callan. “My draw was forcing me to be a little bit patient on him and I think with the way the track’s been riding today it’s a little bit of an on-pace track. They went good sections there and he’s made up a lot of ground, and he ran credibly but you can’t give that start away to good horses like that. The draw probably cost him second.”

Turnover was a record for the day at HK$1.457 billion, while the crowd of 27,878 was the highest at the meeting in six years.

Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “The week shaped up to be a more than exciting global racing event, and I would say that the Chairman’s Sprint Prize was one of the most exciting races we’ve seen here in a while – the world’s best sprinter showing that electric turbo charge at the end – it was fantastic.

“Maurice emphasised in the Champions Mile that he is probably the best miler in Asia and one of the best milers in the world, and he and Chautauqua winning show that the best can come here and perform. We are sure that this event can go further – not forgetting last week’s APQEII Cup, we have seen wonderful horses, top-class performances, and we have a great platform on which to build. We can grow this event and we have exciting plans for next year that will be announced at a later date.”

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