By Graham Cunningham
A rampant new star and a returning older one combined in perfect harmony at Sha Tin as Hot King Prawn and Joao Moreira landed the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) in dynamic all-the-way fashion.
Moreira, who left for Japan in July only to find his new career plans thwarted by a failed written test, was back at Sha Tin just 24 hours after being granted a six-month licence to return to Hong Kong as stable jockey to John Size.
He took the leg up on Hot King Prawn after an undistinguished start to the day – with no placings from his first six rides – but the Brazilian was all smiles again after Hot King Prawn took his record to nine wins from 10 attempts.
“It’s such a pleasure to be back riding a horse like this for John,” he said.
“He was so fast out of the gate and when I asked him to go in the straight I was always confident that he could hold on.”
Hot King Prawn’s chances of holding on were increased considerably by the fact that Moreira was able to secure the lead without using up anything like as much energy as the early leaders in the previous two Group Two contests on the card had to expend.
The freewheeling grey put his nearest pursuer Ivictory in trouble as he stretched for home early in the home straight and opened up a lead of a couple of lengths soon after.
Mr Stunning and Karis Teetan found full stride in the final 150m, but Moreira had judged things perfectly on the winner, who hit the line with half a length to spare in a time of 1m 08.59s.
The winner’s stablemate Beat The Clock stayed on willingly after a lengthy break to finish an honourable third with Winner’s Way in fourth, but things didn’t go well for the rest of the Size quintet as Ivictory, Premiere and D B Pin filled the last three places.
Size has proved a master at bringing unraced sprinters through the ranks to compete at the top level but still hailed Hot King Prawn as “a very unusual horse” as he reflected on his latest big win.
“He’s made gradual improvement and keeps coming up with the goods,” he added. “We keep turning him out but he helps himself both at home and at the races.”
Size is well aware that Hot King Prawn’s last two successes have come without too much pace pressure and that a new set of rivals may offer something different when he bids to land the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on 9th December.
“Pressure for the lead is a concern and I’m sure someone will come up with a plan, but I think this horse can adapt. I haven’t had a chance to check the other horses yet but Silvestre (de Sousa) was very happy with Beat The Clock and he should improve for today’s run.”
Connections of those who chased the winner home in this dress rehearsal for the Hong Kong Sprint will be well aware that only one Jockey Club Sprint winner in the last decade has gone on to follow up in the December showpiece.
That one horse was Mr Stunning last year and Teetan, who felt that a bump from Ivictory harmed his cause, is relishing the chance to take on Hot King Prawn on better terms next month.
He said: “Zac’s horse smashed into him and he fell back half a length but he got his momentum late and hit the line strong.”
De Sousa felt that the lack of a searching pace wasn’t ideal for Beat The Clock and feels “he could be a very smart horse for next time,” but Purton remains in the dark about why Ivictory has failed to shine this season and conceded that “he just doesn’t seem at his best at the moment.”
No such comment applies to Hot King Prawn and Mr Stunning and the stage is now set perfectly for round three back at Sha Tin in three weeks’ time.
The record reflects that Hot King Prawn came out on top by a length and a quarter when receiving 11lb in the Premier Bowl and by just half a length when receiving 5lb today.
Level weights will apply when Mr Stunning attempts to join Falvelon, Silent Witness, Sacred Kingdom, Lord Kanaloa and Aerovelocity as dual winners of the Hong Kong Sprint, but Moreira has ample faith in his new best friend.
The Brazilian, who completed a treble in the last two races aboard Raging Storm and Noble Steed, said: “Hot King Prawn is a lovely horse and today he gave me the feeling that he’s a star, so I’m really looking forward to what is next.”
Aren’t we all, Joao, aren’t we all?