Joao Moreira and What Else But You thrilled a huge crowd at Sha Tin this afternoon (Thursday, 7 February) with a smart victory in the festive feature, the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m).
The Brazilian ace bagged a treble at Hong Kong’s holiday fixture, which yielded turnover of HK$1.755 billion, the second highest all-time for the day. And while the first of his trio, Full Of Beauty, is one who might make the Group-race grades in time, What Else But You is pretty much there.
“He’s classy, he’s quality: he’s been running close behind some very good horses and if he can go that extra step of improvement he’s going to be right there with them,” Moreira said after the Duporth six-year-old had drawn two lengths clear for a comfortable win.
What Else But You (131lb) – rated 106 ahead of this win – was thrown in the deep end for a tough first Pattern race experience in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. But the John Size-trained gelding showed promise in G3 company last time out when a length and three-quarters behind high-class stablemate Conte.
“He’s a good horse,” Moreira said, “unfortunately he had some issues in the past that stopped his career from being even better. Hopefully now he’s fully recovered and able to do what he’s capable of.
“He felt great on the way to the gate and I thought if he brought his ‘A’ game he’d be hard to beat. The plan was to come on the outside and flash home but the way circumstances played out it looked like everyone else had the same idea; they popped out, the gap came through on the inside and I had to go for it and hope for the run. Once he got it he just ran away.”
The $2.10 favourite with the online bookmakers is now three from three with Moreira in the plate – six from 16 all told – after holding BMW Hong Kong Derby entrant Solar Patch (115lb). The latter put in a fine effort on his belated season’s debut following a setback in October.
Trainer John Moore was delighted and is considering giving the Stratum gelding a run in the second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series in 10 days’ time.
“I know he carried no weight but that run was full of merit first-up after some issues,” Moore said.
“He’ll likely go for the Classic Cup but there is the option of a Class 2 mile race a week later or an 1800 (metres) on 2 March. We’ll see what the owner wants to do.”
More than 105,000 racegoers streamed through the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s turnstiles, wooed by the hope of a fortuitous start to the Year of the Pig, a free pen, good food, and exciting sport contained in 11 competitive handicaps.
The crowd total was only the third 100,000-plus attendance this century and the first since a record 118,864 enjoyed the action in 2013.
The Year of the Pig started with Silvestre de Sousa driving the Manfred Man-trained Red Elysees to victory in the Class 4 Prosperity Handicap (1800m) and the Brazilian matched his countryman with a treble of his own.
De Sousa shared the spoils in race nine when Prance Dragon dead-heated with the Dylan Mo-ridden Key Witness and then took the finale with a power-packed drive on the Francis Lui-trained Cordyceps.
Full of promises
The Size-trained Full Of Beauty put in a big performance to win the Class 3 Fat Choi Handicap (1200m) for Moreira, travelling wide to make it three wins from as many starts.
“He’s still learning but he’s learning very well,” Moreira said. “He’s doing it tough and he’s coping. He’s a talented horse and it feels like he’s going to reach a very high rating.”
And Size did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm that is building around the Darci Brahma four-year-old.
“He showed real class today, apart from actually covering the ground – which is not a good thing on the C+3 course – he seems easy to manage through a race, he simply obeys the instructions of the jockey which is a huge asset.
“As the races get stronger and quicker he might get more comfortable and find a horse to follow.”
The trainer and his stable jockey sealed a treble with the progressive Picken in the Class 3 Good Fortune Handicap (1400m). The four-year-old made it three wins from eight races.
Another promising galloper, Solar Wai Wai, overcame a troubled run to earn a maiden score over 1200m in Class 4. The Frankie Lor-trained three-year-old put his head down in the nick of time for champion jockey Zac Purton.
“Zac said the horse is still a bit green so he should find improvement later and he lost his left front shoe. I thought he was second and then I saw on the slow-motion replay that he’d won,” Lor said.
Lui, meanwhile, saddled a double. Management Star preceded Cordyceps’ win under a strong drive from jockey Vincent Ho. The Tony Cruz-trained Brave Baby landed the Kut Cheong Handicap (1200m) under Matthew Poon, while Umberto Rispoli edged the Lucky Star Handicap (1400m) on the Dennis Yip-trained Splendour And Gold.
Chad Schofield enjoyed a rare win for the Moore stable. Smart Rocket’s breakthrough victory was the rider’s third for the yard in total and first since Mr Bogart won on 16 October, 2016.
Hong Kong racing continues on Sunday, 10 February at Sha Tin Racecourse when 13-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte will race for the final time before retiring to join Hong Kong’s trainers’ rank.