Waikuku rises to Stewards’ Cup glory

Waikuku
Waikuku battles past Beauty Generation.

Waikuku defeated Beauty Generation in an exhilarating showdown for the Group 1 Steward’s Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin Racecourse this afternoon (Sunday, 19 January), a result that all but confirmed a changing of the guard at the very top of Hong Kong’s pecking order.

Joao Moreira’s victorious mount quickened from the rear through a closing 400 metres clocked at 22.38s to register a time of 1m 33.04s, the eighth-fastest at the course and distance in more than a decade.

“His sections at the end were outstanding!” winning rider Joao Moreira said.

And they had to be. Waikuku had finished ahead of Beauty Generation – the track record holder – three times this season already, but today the old champ’s hunger for the fray was back as he rolled along on the lead.

Under a near-pristine Zac Purton ride, the seven-year-old, who not long ago was sweeping aside all-comers with ease, kicked on down the home stretch and fought bravely when Waikuku pressed him.

“Beauty Generation can do that and he seemed to run very good today,” Waikuku’s trainer John Size observed. “He raced particularly well and Zac seemed to rate him perfectly so he was hard to get past. When we straightened up and started to make ground on him gradually, I thought we might get there on the line.”

Size’s in-running judgement was correct. Beauty Generation’s powerful drive, which has seen off many a storied rival in the past two years, was not quite as before; Waikuku and Moreira had his measure by a neck where it mattered.

“I was always aware that I could not turn for home too far away,” Moreira said. “Just before turning for home I started to angle him out and didn’t hesitate to make a long run to make sure that I didn’t go into the last 300 metres too far back.

“We had enough time to catch him – he wasn’t giving up, he wasn’t surrendering but Waikuku is such a nice horse, he gives his best and this is the kind of result he can produce.”

Beauty Generation’s days as an indomitable champion are evidently over, but the seven-time Group 1 winner and one-time world’s top-rated miler is still a rival to be reckoned with at the highest level. The runner-up had plenty of daylight to spare over third-placed Ka Ying Star.

“Zac said the run was really good,” defeated trainer John Moore said. “They broke them up by four and a quarter lengths. There’s just one new boy on the block on the way up and ours is on the slight decline.

“When the horse did come on him, he showed that he did have a bit of kick there but the old, original kick wasn’t there, where he would have fought on with that horse.”

Moreira, too, had praise for his vanquished rival.

“Beauty Generation is not done,” the Brazilian said. “He proved today that he’s in great form; he just needs to bring what he’s got and he’s always going to be very tough. But, fortunately, I’ve got a very nice horse with such amazing ability; Waikuku is such a nice horse and I’m very pleased to be on board.”

Size, who was winning the Stewards’ Cup for the sixth time, is yet to make a decision about Waikuku’s next assignment but the 11-time champion trainer intimated that he could take a patient approach into the Group 1 Champions Mile at the end of April.

“I might give him a little break now and just aim for that race,” he said, while all but ruling out a step up to 2000m, the distance at which Waikuku was an unlucky second in last year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby.

“I think the 2000 metres might be too tough for him and he’s winning at a mile so I can’t see any reason to change,” he said.

“He’s been going very well this season; he’s made improvement along the way and delivered on his promises so he’s just a lovely horse to have in the stable.”

Moore, meanwhile, has a firm idea as to where he believes Beauty Genertion should go next.

“I think he’s the right horse to take to Dubai – that will be the main target now if we can convince the Kwok family to take him,” the handler said.

“He was gallant in defeat; our boy is on the slow fade but is capable of running a big one in Dubai if we get the go-ahead. The 1800 metres there (Group 1 Dubai Turf), putting him on the other leg, I think it would really rejuvenate him; and he won’t meet Waikuku in Dubai so the trip would be the best way forward.”

Moreira and Size combined two races later to complete a Group 1 double when champion sprinter Beat The Clock won the Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m).