As discussed in a past edition of The Dispatch Box, Aerovelocity and Luger were both sending all the right signals ahead of their respective comebacks from heart irregularities. The duo nearly pulled a double at Sha Tin on Sunday, with Aerovelocity breezing to a convincing win in the Centenary Sprint Cup and Luger just missing in a photo in the Stewards’ Cup (G1).

Aerovelocity, Hong Kong’s reigning champion sprinter, had been sidelined since late October with the cardiac issue. The Paul O’Sullivan trainee had to abdicate his Hong Kong Sprint (G1) throne December 13, and Peniaphobia stepped in to claim the crown. But with Aerovelocity’s health restored, he had the satisfaction of gaining revenge on Peniaphobia in the Centenary Sprint Cup.

Traveling sweetly just off the pace for Zac Purton, Aerovelocity was still in hand as Peniaphobia began to be stoked up to overtake early leader Domineer. Defending champion Peniaphobia struck the front, but not for long. Aerovelocity arrogantly swept past, and as if rubbing it in, lugged in, bumped Peniaphobia, and caused him to check. His head cocked as he continued veering in toward the rail, Aerovelocity bounded 1 1/2 lengths clear.

Gold-Fun rallied to grab second from Peniaphobia, who lost momentum from the interference and crossed the line a further neck astern. Peniaphobia’s rider, Joao “Magic Man” Moreira, accordingly lodged a claim of foul against the winner, but the stewards cited Aerovelocity’s margin and allowed the result to stand. Aerovelocity sped about six furlongs on the good course in 1:08.36.

Purton admitted that it was a struggle to try to keep Aerovelocity on the straight and narrow.

“I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the last 200 meters because I had a bit of a wrestle with him trying to keep him off the fence,” Purton said. “He gave me a difficult ride but I did the best I could and he won pretty comfortably in the end.”

“At the 350 metres I knew they weren’t going to beat him.”

“He brained them today!” O’Sullivan enthused. “Today was right up to his very best performance.

“It’s a nervous time bringing a horse back. I was especially nervous between the 500 meters and the 400 meters. When they’ve had that sort of (heart) problem that’s when they blow up, and then it’s goodnight, but when he cantered up I thought ‘yes, it’s your day’.

“He’s trialled better, he’s holding his weight like he did last season and we certainly were far happier going into this but of course when a horse has had a heart irregularity you’re always a bit apprehensive.

 “It must have been a very difficult decision for the owner, Daniel (Yeung Ngai), to pass up the Hong Kong Sprint and the chance of a million dollar bonus (as part of the Global Sprint Challenge), but they were brave enough to do it and they got what they deserved today.

“I haven’t thought one day past today,” O’Sullivan added regarding future targets. “I know what the options are and we’ll probably prioritize the race back here in May (Chairman’s Sprint Prize [G1]) but I haven’t even sat down and worked out the dates. It’s a great thrill today for him to come back.”

The Centenary Sprint Cup serves as the first leg of Hong Kong’s Speed Series, which continues with the February 28 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) at about seven furlongs and culminates in the May 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize back at about six.

As a footnote to the Centenary Sprint Cup, Not Listenin’tome ran evenly in seventh, but this shouldn’t be held against him in light of his own health scare on the eve of the race. The John Moore trainee’s bloodwork Saturday revealed a “mild inflammation,” and he was only passed fit to run when his Sunday bloodwork and temperature were normal. Regardless, Not Listenin’tome must have been feeling at least a few after-effects of whatever was bugging him.

 

Two races later, reigning Hong Kong Derby hero Luger ran a mighty race only to come up a nostril short of Giant Treasure in the Stewards’ Cup over a metric mile.

The form is ironclad, since Giant Treasure was coming off an honorable second to Japanese Horse of the Year Maurice in the December 13 Hong Kong Mile (G1), with the now-convalescing Able Friend back in third.

Luger had been off much longer than Aerovelocity. Diagnosed (for the second time) following his tailed-off sixth to Able Friend in the May 3 Champions Mile (G1), he encountered another delay due to a leg infection in the fall. Trainer John Size exercised patience in awaiting this spot, and he came within an ace of winning a Group 1 off the nearly nine-month layoff.

The difference was more than accounted for by ground loss: while Purton had to angle Luger out for a clear shot in the stretch, Giant Treasure got the enviable rail split beneath Christophe Soumillon. Both reached the wire in 1:34.16, with the gray nose of Giant Treasure ever so slightly in front.

“He’s not an easy ride, he’s still quite green,” Soumillon said. “I rode him for the first time in November and he was upsetting us a bit because you could feel he’s got a lot of ability but he was not trying that hard. So we tried to find a way to gallop as best as possible.

“You can’t ride him like a usual horse and try to come around the outside to win it. He loves to come through horses. Even today when I hit the front 150 meters from the line he just looked around and I couldn’t make him concentrate until the line, so we were quite lucky to get it today.”

“My goodness, it was tight!” trainer Richard Gibson said. “He ran well here a month ago and we knew if he repeated that form he’d be tough to beat today.

“The blinkers have helped the horse. Christophe has certainly improved the horse. We always knew he had bags of talent last year and now he’s doing it at Group 1 level so that’s very satisfying.

“We’ve achieved a big goal and huge credit to Christophe to get his head over the line because it was very tight. Christophe was saying after the race that he thinks this horse could stretch in distance, but we’ll have a think.”

If a step up in trip is in the cards, the next logical port of call at Sha Tin would be the about 10-furlong Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1) February 28. That’s the second leg of Hong Kong’s “Triple Crown” for older horses that began with Sunday’s Stewards’ Cup. The final leg is the about 12-furlong Champions & Chater Cup (G1) May 22.

A few Stewards’ Cup runners were using this as a warm-up for the Hong Kong Gold Cup, and you’d have to say it was a case of “mission accomplished” for the rallying Blazing Speed (fifth), Military Attack (sixth) and Designs on Rome (eighth). Designs on Rome, the 2015 Hong Kong Gold Cup winner, and Military Attack, a two-time winner in the 2013 and 2014 runnings, posted superb closing splits of :22.07 and :22.09, respectively.

Adding further solidity to the form, Contentment, a consistent yardstick, was a close third. He figures to shorten up a tad for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup. Beauty Only was a sharp fourth, and it will be interesting to see what trainer Tony Cruz tries with him next. The Gold Cup trip appears a bridge too far, and Cruz has said that Beauty Only is really a miler. Might he too revert in trip next time?

Thinking another step ahead, both Giant’s Treasure and Beauty Only are nominated to the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night, March 26. Soumillon has already cast his vote in favor of Giant Treasure’s trying the Dubai Turf, and about nine furlongs strikes me as perhaps Beauty Only’s ideal distance.

 


Photos and quotes courtesy Hong Kong Jockey Club.