By Andrew Hawkins
Rider Joao Moreira and trainer Caspar Fownes are set to do battle in Dubai on Saturday night (25 March), but they geared up for the weekend’s desert meeting by combining to plunder the Class 1 Happy Valley Vase (1800m) with Marvel Hero at the city track on Wednesday night (22 March).
Marvel Hero (115lb) lowered a 12-year track record for the 1800m, held by John Moore-trained Art Trader since November 2005, when he stopped the clock at 1m 48.05s in his four and a half length victory in the Happy Valley Vase. David Ferraris-trained Dynamism (113lb) and Danny Shum’s Circuit Land (130lb) filled the minor placings.
Moreira took 2.8 favourite Marvel Hero back in the early stages, settling third from the rear, but he whipped around the field entering the back straight as apprentice Kei Chiong tried to steady the pace on last year’s winner Horse Of Fortune.
“It was a messy race, but it wasn’t messy for me,” said Moreira with a smile. “They went hard up to the first turn but coming to the 1000m, they really slowed it up. So I pulled him out and without any pressure from me at all, he improved up to fourth, then third. I was going to be caught wide so I just gave him a little dig to push on towards the lead so I could cross. But after that, the horse really did the rest.
“I’m just glad it worked because it could have gone wrong, but he seemed to really relish that long run.”
Fownes, speaking from Dubai where he saddles up G1 Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) contender Dundonnell, said that there were positives and negatives for Marvel Hero going forward after the win, making comparisons with previous stable stalwarts Rainbow Chic and Noble Conqueror.
“He’s smashed them there, which is obviously exciting to watch, but he’ll go up plenty in the ratings now,” the handler said. “The trouble now is that he’s proven he’s capable of achieving that rating at Happy Valley but he isn’t able to run to the same level at Sha Tin, or at least he hasn’t shown it yet. He’s like Rainbow Chic or before that Noble Conqueror, I think Rainbow Chic won this race three times and Noble Conqueror, he only won at Happy Valley but was rated very high. It’s tough for him now but we will try to find a race for him.”
Moreira, who rides Irish-trained Wild Dude in the Golden Shaheen against Dundonnell – one of five mounts for the Brazilian on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan – said that the Lord Shanakill five-year-old could clearly progress further but that he would need things to go his way.
“I think he could win one more race here at Happy Valley, if there is a race for him,” Moreira said. “I think he would face many of the same horses and I don’t think they could turn it around on him. But as Caspar said, he needs to do it at Sha Tin if he is to keep going higher.”
So’s one-time Derby aspirant Breezes to another sprint victory
Trainer Chris So once held BMW Hong Kong Derby aspirations for Lotus Breeze, but he says that his attributes are best suited to sprinting in Hong Kong, a fact that was drilled home when the six-year-old took out the Class 3 Harbour View Handicap (1200m).
Lotus Breeze was purchased out of Ireland, where he raced as Ebanoran for the Aga Khan. The blueblood, by Oasis Dream out of G1 Irish Oaks (2400m) winner Ebadiyla who counts 2009 HKG3 Centenary Vase (1800m) winner Eyshal among his siblings, was first past the post in two of his five starts in Europe and even raced in Epsom’s Derby in 2014, finishing ninth to Australia.
All signs pointed to him being a staying prospect upon arrival, and So said that he initially thought that he was the stable’s best chance of snaring what is arguably Hong Kong’s most prestigious race.
“We thought he could make the Derby in 2015, in fact when we bought him he was probably our number one seed,” So said. “In the end, we had the favourite in the race (Redkirk Warrior) and it wasn’t Lotus Breeze, he was out with a minor injury.”
Still, So didn’t think that his future would eventually see him winning sprints, but said it was his lack of a turn of foot that saw him produce his best over 1200m, with his two Hong Kong wins coming over the trip.
“He’s just so one-paced,” the handler said. “He’s got a high cruising speed in that he can match the early gate speed of the sprinters and he can go with them throughout, but he doesn’t really sprint, he just stays on. You step him up in trip and he just plugs away, but he gets passed by those who can accelerate. Over sprints, he is more effective. You saw that tonight.”
Lotus Breeze’s win on Wednesday night was just his second from 33 starts and came off the same 64 rating that saw him break his Hong Kong maiden over the Sha Tin 1200m in September. Moreira was in the plate on both occasions.
Lotus Breeze was the second leg of a double for So after he won the first race, the Class 5 Finance Street Handicap (1650m) with King Winsa. Moreira occupied the winners’ circle a race later after taking the Class 4 Li Yuen Handicap (1000m) on Tony Cruz-trained Circuit King, before adding the Happy Valley Vase to finish with a treble.
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (26 March), with the first scheduled for 12:45pm.
Marvel Hero (No. 9), trained by Caspar Fownes and ridden by Joao Moreira, wins the Class One Happy Valley Vase (1800m) at Happy Valley tonight.
Lotus Breeze wins the Class 3 Harbour View Handicap (1200m) under Joao Moreira.