Admire Mars and an inspired Christophe Soumillon came to the fore in what was an emotional occasion for the Japanese racing industry in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin today (Sunday, 8 December).
It was not, perhaps, the result that the home town audience yearned for, with the hat-trick seeking Beauty Generation looking as if he would defy his advancing years when cruising into the lead at the 400-metre mark.
Unfortunately for the massed supporters of John Moore’s hugely popular performer, the tank began to empty almost as soon as Zac Purton began to ask Beauty Generation for one final ounce of effort, while a surging pair of rivals were making alarming progress.
Admire Mars, under sustained pressure from his Belgian-born pilot down the home straight, poked his chestnut head in front with only 100 metres remaining and passed the line half a length clear of the advancing Waikuku and Joao Moreira.
The winner carries the recognisable blue and white silks of Riichi Kondo, one of Japan’s most significant owners, who died only a few weeks ago. His widow attended the presentation ceremony, although the horse was still registered under her late husband’s name, and trainer Yasuo Tomomichi, who was wearing the livery of the owner in his suit and tie, was also holding back the tears.
Soumillon said: “He was probably one of the biggest private owners in the Japanese racing industry, he was somebody very famous who loved horses.
“We could see his colours from a long time ago, they won nearly everywhere. We had the bad news a few weeks ago so I’m really proud and happy to take these colours so high today.”
It is actually 11 years since Soumillon’s last victory at this meeting, which also came in the Mile aboard Good Ba Ba. This European winter, however, he has moved his talents to Japan. It was the first time he had partnered Admire Mars, a two-time Group 1 scorer and winner of five from eight career starts who had seemingly been aimed towards Sha Tin for some time.
“I knew my horse was very strong, although his last run wasn’t that good,” he said. “He was the best two-year-old last year in Japan, probably the best three-year-old in Japan too.
“I knew he could stay that distance quite well, he has good gate speed, he liked the ground, so I was quite happy. I told the lad before the race when I saw the odds on the screen ‘there’s something wrong there because for me he should be in the first four favourites’. I rode my race as if he was the favourite and it paid off.”
With the field carried along steadily for the most part by Ka Ying Star and then Beauty Generation, Soumillon always had something to aim at from his position in midfield.
“The first time I saw Beauty Generation running this year, and last time also, I saw he didn’t have the magic he had last year, so that gave me a chance to think that he was beatable,” he revealed.
“For a few strides I thought Zac would go and then at the 300 metres mark I thought ‘I will grab him’. I felt Joao coming on the outside and he’s flying so much at the moment, I thought it would be hard to push my horse into the line but he did it really well.”
Tomomichi has shown adventure in campaigning horses overseas already, taking the likes of the 2017 Dubai Turf with Vivlos and running Cheval Grand at York and Ascot a few months ago.
“I did think this was going to be a difficult race for a three-year-old to win, but when I saw how he had settled here earlier this week, I thought that he looked really well,” he said.
“Christophe Soumillon had asked to ride the horse, and he gave him a very good ride.”
He continued: “We were all going to wear the same suit and tie together, so it still feels as if Mr Kondo is with us watching the race. He was a big supporter for me for a long time, he had many good horses, and he was a very good person.”
Trainer John Moore had maintained that Beauty Generation, the two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year, was starting to show a little more sparkle in exercise despite defeats when conceding weight in lead-up races in the Sha Tin Trophy and Jockey Club Mile.
“He was gallant in defeat,” said Moore. “In his last two runs he hasn’t been hitting the line as we’d expect. That’s what Zac said and he confirmed that.
“He’s just not going through the gears when he gets into the straight and he did it again today. The Stewards’ Cup will be his next Group 1 race and we’ll take it race by race from there.”
There were no hard feelings from Moreira, who had another afternoon to cherish at the circuit. Having beaten Beauty Generation in the Jockey Club Mile, Waikuku confirmed places here from the widest gate 10.
“It was an extremely good run, he had to face a tough gate and I had to drag him back,” said the rider.
“He wasn’t having much luck from there but he’s a good second to a good horse. We didn’t have too much luck from the gate and I think that is what has got him beaten. That’s the reason why I pulled him back otherwise I was going to get tracked wide.”
At a ‘Turf World Championships’ that belonged to Japan, the last word should go to Soumillon.
“You can see that wherever the Japanese go, in America, England, France, or even Australia, when they buy mares, they buy the best ones, and when they bring stallions over, they bring the best ones,” he explained.
“They are training horses on tough tracks, they are feeding them really well, trying many kinds of things and it pays off. They won the Melbourne Cup, Hong Kong, Dubai, nearly everywhere. It’s a great achievement and I’m proud to be part of it.”