By Andrew Hawkins
Long touted as a potential stakes horse, John Size-trained Mr Stunning made a statement at his first Group-race attempt, stamping himself as a major contender for next month’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) with a strong victory in Sunday’s (9 April) G2 Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin.
The four-year-old, who was sent out second favourite at 3.4 on the back of a Class 1 victory over the straight 1000m in March, took his record to seven wins from 10 starts in Hong Kong with his victory in the HK$4 million feature. The bay came from near last to record a half-length victory over G1 winner Peniaphobia under regular rider Joao Moreira, who notched a four-timer, including a G2 double as he took the Chairman’s Trophy on Rapper Dragon.
“There was always a natural query about whether he could compete with the top horses,” Size said after recording his first success in the G2 contest. “That’s the case for any horse stepping out in that class for the first time, but he couldn’t have done any better there. He did have all favours in the run, the way the race was run every horse had their chance but definitely suited him. Still, he went on and won the race and that’s all you can ask for and there was a big margin behind the first two as well.”
Mr Stunning was eased from the gates and settled at the rear early, although never farther than five lengths from the even tempo set by Tony Cruz-trained Peniaphobia. Moreira kept the Exceed And Excel gelding to the rail, saving ground until the 300m, before he sprinted powerfully when given his head between runners at the 350m, recording a slick last 400m sectional of 21.90 as he clocked 1m 8.46s for the 1200m.
“We thought he was going to be handy, but under the circumstances that I was faced with, I just decided to place him where he was comfortable,” said Moreira. “I think that was quite lucky in the end because so much was going on right in front of me and he was out of it, so it gave him his best chance of winning. Remember what he did at Happy Valley in his first couple of starts though, he came from a long, long way back to just go whoosh. I think that versatility might be his biggest strength.
“I’m very proud of this horse, I always thought he had the ability to get to Group level but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. And I think that he’s only going to get better next season too, so what he’s doing now is a bonus.”
Mr Stunning’s next target will now be the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize on 7 May over the same course and distance, a race where he is likely to meet many of Sunday’s beaten brigade, as well as select runners from abroad.
2015 Hong Kong Sprint winner Peniaphobia finished second for jockey Neil Callan, the six-year-old adopting his usual front-running tactics in moderate fractions before finding his younger rival too strong late.
“He’s run another solid race,” Callan said. “He’s confirmed earlier form from the Centenary Sprint Cup a couple of months back. The winner looks quite young and progressive, my fella was in that same position a couple of years ago. It’s nice to see that Peniaphobia is holding that level and he’ll go into the Group 1 with a little bit of confidence.”
Last year’s winner Lucky Bubbles was third past the post, but was relegated to fifth behind dead-heaters Thewizardofoz and Blizzard after he was judged to have caused interference to the latter horse passing the 200m.
“He is feeling like a jaded horse at the moment, he’s not going quite as good as he was going earlier in the season,” Prebble said. “I think we will give him a very light preparation heading into the Chairman’s Sprint Prize and then he can have a nice break before next season gears up again.”
Size was pleased with the effort of one-time boom horse Thewizardofoz, who returned to form at his first start since October in finishing third under Chad Schofield.
“For me, it looked like he ran very well, it looks like he is back,” the handler said, a view backed up by Schofield: “I had to squeeze him mid-race to hold my position, there was a bit of pressure out wide. He travelled really nicely though, he quickened, he may have had enough the last 50 metres as you would expect but he stuck to his task well and I think he can be competitive against this company again.”
The G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) is one of two top-level features on 7 May, along with the G1 Champions Mile (1600m). The fields for both races will be announced on 19 April.
John Size-trained Mr Stunning (No 4), ridden by Joao Moreira, wins the G2 The Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin racecourse today.
Connections of Mr Stunning celebrate their success after the race.
Photos 3, 4, 5: At the trophy presentation ceremony, Club��s Steward The Hon Sir C K Chow presents the Sprint Cup and silver dishes to representative of Mr Stunning��s owner Maurice Koo Win Chong, trainer John Size and jockey Joao Moreira at the presentation ceremony.
All pose for a group photo at The Sprint Cup presentation ceremony.