Longines Hong Kong Cup (Group 1)
Sha Tin, Turf, 2000m
9 December 2012
When Cirrus des Aigles (Fr) (Even Top) was declared from Sunday’s G1 Longines Hong Kong Cup because of injury, it certainly made life easier on the likes of California Memory (USA) (Highest Honor), who was looking to become the first repeat winner in the history of the event. In the end, it may not have mattered. The diminutive gray, arguably the most popular horse in Hong Kong, got through in the stretch and put the race to bed in a matter of strides before going on to a one-length victory from Giofra (GB) (Dansili) and Australia’s Alcopop (Aus) (Jeune).
Following his mild upset over the likes of Ambitious Dragon and Cirrus des Aigles last year, California Memory couldn’t quite solve the Horse of the Year when third in the Stewards’ Cup over a mile January 29 and in the Hong Kong Gold Cup February 26, then was a listless 12th behind Cityscape (GB) (Selkirk) in the G1 Dubai Duty Free Stakes March 31.
Not always the easiest to keep sound, California Memory was well enough for the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup going this track and trip April 29, but finished only fifth, and closed a once-promising season with a seventh in the G1 Singapore Airlines International Cup May 20.
Given a two-race build-up to this title defense, the 6-year-old returned to action with a very useful fifth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths to Ambitious Dragon, in the Sha Tin Trophy Handicap October 28 and put it all together last time with a short-head success from 2011 Cup runner-up Irian (Ger) (Tertullian) in the G2 Jockey Club Cup November 18.
California Memory jumped on cue, and that allowed Matthew Chadwick to slide up the fence into a handy third and just behind the leaders as the field raced out of the stretch for the first time. Dan Excel (Ire)(Shamardal) was at the head of affairs for most of the first half of the journey, but began to get some midrace pressure, first from Autumn Gold (Ger) (Ransom o’War) and then a fired-up Feuerblitz (Ger) (Big Shuffle), the two injecting just enough speed to set things up for those from off the pace. California Memory found himself shuffled back past midfield with a half-mile to race, but Chadwick cooly allowed him to advance into contention turning for home. From there, it was a matter of when to pull the ripcord, and the response was immediate from California Memory, as he hit the lead with less than a furlong to race and coasted in.
Giofra rallied well for second, and Alcopop did his country proud, snatching third on the wire. Carlton House (Street Cry) enjoyed a clean trip, but finished a one-paced sixth.
“He showed great acceleration, and showed his authority today,” said Tony Cruz, a former champion jockey in Hong Kong who trained the legendary Silent Witness (Aus) (El Moxie) to a pair of wins in the Hong Kong Sprint. “When he quickened, Matthew said he put everyone to bed,” Cruz continued. “And then he started to idle in front, and the horse started thinking ‘where is everybody?’ But when they started to come back to him, he thought ‘I’d better go a bit faster again.’”
Cruz also paid tribute to local vet staff for helping to get his charge to the big day in one piece. “We have to give credit to the vet Ben Mason, because the horse has had his niggles and been lame many times, but he fixed the problem,” he commented.
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News