It was the Mr Stunning show at Sha Tin this afternoon (Sunday, 5 March), or Messrs Stunning, to be more accurate. While the horse of that name shone in the Class 1 Friendship Bridge Handicap to place himself on the cusp of Group 1 assignments, it was the man in the saddle, Joao Moreira, who dazzled the most with a record-breaking performance.
Hong Kong’s Champion Jockey endured a rare win-freeze seven days ago as he went zero from 10. But a week is a long time in any sport and today the Brazilian was on fire, scorching to eight wins from 10 rides on the 11-race card. In doing so, Moreira bettered the old Hong Kong record of six in a day, which he had shared with Brett Prebble and Douglas Whyte.
“I really don't have words to describe it, it’s amazing. We know how tough it is to make it here in Hong Kong,” Moreira said before going on to pay tribute to all his supporters. “I didn't expect it to happen, to be honest. To ride eight winners in a day here in Hong Kong is more than special.”
Moreira stormed the first four races before sitting out race five but was back on the mark in the next. He achieved his third Hong Kong six-timer when the talented three-year-old Beat The Clock justified 1.9 favouritism in race eight, the Class 3 Coloane Handicap (1200m), and that record fell when the “Magic Man” drove the Derek Cruz-trained Mighty Maverick to a three-quarter length success in race 10, the Class 3 Macau Handicap (1400m).
The champ then delivered a grandstand finale, urging Prawn Baba to a length and three-quarter verdict in the last, the Class 2 Taipa Handicap (1800m), to bring up his third career eight-timer. Moreira achieved the feat previously in Brazil and Singapore.
The standout among the octet came in race three; a sub-56 seconds blitz down the Sha Tin straight atop Mr Stunning (115lb), a four-year-old that his rider believes is destined for better yet. The 1.8 favourite travelled sweetly, slipstreaming the pace-setting Amber Sky (104lb) until asked to quicken down the stands’ side fence with 400m remaining. By the 250m point he was on top; with 50m to go, Mr Stunning was free-wheeling, ears pricked, as Moreira eased down for a two-length success over Not Listenin’tome (131lb). The official time was 55.65s, with the winner’s closing split clocked at 22.0s.
“We haven’t seen his best yet, he’s a quite young horse going forward. Once again he won very impressively and down the road I think we’re going to see a better horse than we’ve seen so far – which has already been pretty good. He’s an exciting type,” he said.
“I don't think 1000 metres is his best, I think 1200 will see the best of him, and that’s what we want anyway – all the big races are over longer.”
Trainer John Size was delighted with the Exceed And Excel gelding. Last season’s Champion Griffin took his record to six wins from nine starts as he notched a second consecutive win from his two races down Sha Tin’s 1000m straight.
“He’s always showed us plenty and he hasn’t stopped delivering, so I’m pretty happy with him,” Size said.
Mr Stunning’s record on the track’s turning 1200m course reveals a chink, however, with the bay’s tally standing at two wins against three defeats. That is a concern to his handler as he faces the inevitability of his charge taking the step into set-weights contests at that very course and distance.
“He’s got no option but to go into the top races now,” he said. “This is a different course though, and we’re not going to get one of these every week – he’s handicapped on this course now, 1000 metres down the straight, because that’s where he’s run his last two races.
“I don’t have an option,” he continued. “I have to go with the programme, as we all do. Once you get to a rating of 110, your life is over, you’re either Group 1 or you're nothing, so we have to throw him in and find out. There are very few handicaps; he’s got to race set-weights against the Group 1 horses and can he do that round a corner? The market-place probably thinks not. I live in hope, so I can keep going.”
John Moore, meanwhile, was brimming after his G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) entrant Not Listenin’tome had chased for second under Zac Purton.
“He’s run a very good race with Dubai in mind – I’m very pleased with that,” the trainer said. “We’ll run him in blinkers and a hood at Meydan – today, he just wore the cheek-pieces.”
Not Listenin’tome conceded 16lb to the winner, and, although outpaced mid-run, kept on strongly to the line. The Dylan Thomas six-year-old is scheduled to depart Hong Kong for Dubai on 17 March.
“We made him jump and try and get there but Zac said that when they tapped the speed on at about the halfway point, with the big weight, he just found it hard to keep in touch. He was giving a lot of weight to the winner and Mr Stunning got the gun run on the fence,” Moore continued.
“He was doing his best work at the finish and Zac got off and said ‘please let me ride him in Dubai’. It was a good run, but we’ve already got Tommy (Berry) riding him.
“Hopefully, now he can draw a good gate in Dubai and just get handy because we watched the racing there last night and nobody wants to stay in on the fence, they all want to get clear lines without all that kickback.”