Time Warp set a merciless tempo to win the HK$10 million Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse this on Sunday, Feb. 25.
After leading from the off under Zac Purton, the strapping chestnut was forced to go where no horse had gone before – inside two minutes over Sha Tin's 2000 metres.
The performance was one of raw courage from Time Warp and smart timing from Purton. The five-year-old went through the middle three sectionals in 23.35s, 23.39s and 23.32s, closing off a battling home stretch run in 24.23s.
Werther took the fight to the winner through that final 400 metres. Hugh Bowman's mount edged ahead with a furlong to race but Time Warp fought back, driving on to lower the track record to 1m 59.97s. Jim And Tonic's old course record of 2m 00.10s had stood since April, 1999.
“That was quite some performance, wasn't it?” Purton said of the 2/1 second-favourite. “We've been racing here for a long time now and there's been a lot of good horses grace this track so it's a credit to the horse.”
Purton set out to replicate the all-the-way tactics that had stolen December's G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup at the course and distance. But unlike the untroubled lead he enjoyed on that occasion, this time Tony Cruz's charge was harried along, with the John Moore-trained Helene Charisma pressing through the early stages.
“You don't want as much pressure as he had today, every time I thought I could back the speed off a little bit more and take a breather they kept going at him and kept making him do it, which I thought may happen. Thankfully he still came out on top,” Purton said.
The winning margin over the John Moore-trained Werther was a half-length, with a length and a quarter covering the first four past the winning post. The Danny Shum-trained Seasons Bloom, successful in the G1 Stewards' Cup at a mile last start, ran on for third under champion jockey Joao Moreira, while the Cruz-trained Pakistan Star took fourth, tiring late in his first start since June.
The result was no surprise to Cruz, who confirmed that a victory in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin on 29 April is the next aim. The Archipenko gelding holds what look to be redundant entries for the Dubai Turf and Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan next month.
“I expected him to win,” the trainer said. “This time they put the pressure on, they pushed the pace. I still believe he can go further even. I think he's a horse that will prove he can win the QEII Cup.
“He'll stay back for the rest of the Hong Kong races – maybe next year we'll go places with him. I don't want to gamble with the chance that he goes to Dubai and doesn't feel 100 percent when he comes back to run those races in Hong Kong. I'm going to play safe.”
Trainer John Moore was full of praise for Werther, the 2.8 favourite. The bravery of the six-year-old's effort was accentuated in the revelation that the horse had bled during the race.
“Hugh got a head in front and he said he thought he was going to sustain it and kick a little more, and then we've seen that the horse has bled, so that's probably the reason why,” Moore said.
Bowman confirmed that last year's winner had taken the lead in the skirmish to the wire.
“He did (lead) but I think if he was at his best he would have put a margin on the winner,” he said.
“They've run good time but I know the horse and he just wasn't quite himself today. I make no excuses, the winner did it all, so take nothing away from him, but I think my guy wasn't quite himself.”
Moreira was pleased with Seasons Bloom whose only previous attempt at the distance in last year's Hong Kong Derby saw him finish fourth.
“It was a very good run after so long since his last run over 2000 metres. To finish just a length behind the winner was a great achievement,” he said.
Pakistan Star behaved impeccably on his first start since he planted his feet during a contest here last June. The Shamardal five-year-old ran a race full of promise as his lack of race fitness seemed to tell in the closing stages.
“I felt once I pulled him out he would have just dashed and would have beaten them easily. When I got out in the clear he just seemed to stay in the same spot,” said jockey Matthew Chadwick.
Time Warp's win was Purton's second in the race following Military Attack in 2013, while Cruz landed the Cup previously with California Memory (2011), Perfect Partner (2005), Bullish Luck (2004) and Deauville (1997).
Purton took the day's other Group 1 feature, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) as he notched a four-timer. The rider landed his second HK$10 million contest within less than an hour atop the Moore-trained Beauty Generation, winner of the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile in December.
Hong Kong racing continues with a night meeting at Sha Tin on Wednesday, 28 February.
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