What happened to the European challenge at Sha Tin

As promised to report I sat in the International Media Room for the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races meeting at Sha Tin in Hong Kong on Sunday worrying in advance about the European challenge here on one of the richest days of turf racing anywhere in the world.

Those who read my preview will know that I have already nailed my colours to the appropriate masts, but I was wary that one or two outsiders would pop up to spoil my party and leave my colleagues to gloat after the event.

The atmosphere here is unlike anything back home – can you ever imagine a queue and security guards for the racecourse shop where throngs of racing fans are buying everything from jackets and ties though to pens and models, plus garish socks in various racing colours, yes, I did partake.

A ten race card takes some stamina if you are UK based, but seems normal in other parts of the racing world. There were three handicaps to empty my wallet before the first of the big races, and zero returns after photo finish wins at odds of 8/1, 11/1 - under seven-pound claimer Dylan Mo for the ride of the day for me - and with the odds-on Nothinglikemore getting turned over in the third any smile I had left was wiped from my face.

The first of the big races followed and I hopefully redeemed myself by tipping and backing Highland Reel who showed the perfect combination of ability and courage as he fought back to go on and win by a length and three quarters, after Talismanic loomed up large and looked sure to go on and land the prize. A European one-two was a nice result as far as I am concerned though no, I didn’t back them in a forecast but there is more to life than money apparently. We moved on to the sprint next.

Highland Reel (IRE) and Ryan Moore return victorious again at Sha Tin, picture Liesl King

Just like any punter I have ever met, I was regretting not having a bigger bet on the winner by now but decided not to double up on Mr Stunning in the sprint which can only have aided his cause.

There isn’t a lot of him compared to some of his bigger stronger rivals but he has class and speed by the bucket load, and held them all off in the last furlong or so to win by a nose, with the European pair a disappointing eighth and last.

I like the way the winner races and this was of a “no prisoners taken” early pace as well, but I suspect I can only dream of him travelling to Europe where he would possibly carry all before him if he got the faster ground that seems to suit him so admirably.

With a race gap we than moved on to the Mile which I freely admit looked beyond me from the declaration stage, and so it proved as Beauty Generation became the easiest winner of the day so far. Even I could call John Moore’s five-year-old the winner a long way out, and so it proved as the son of Road To Rock more than doubled his entire career earnings in one hit, and popular as he was with the crowd I cannot pretend he ever appeared on my shortlist.

The Europeans had a disaster with Lancaster bomber fifth, Lightning Spear tenth, Karar thirteenth and Roly Poly last but no big shock there, and the winner deserved all the accolades after a stunning career best performance.

One more Group One to go and I did not see the ex-Sir Mark Prescott trained Time Warp coming, but he won the Vase with plenty up his sleeve, reversing recent form with favourite Werther in the process.

Even after the race I wouldn’t have backed him without a win at this level to his name, but Zac Purton rode the perfect race from the front and deserved all the plaudits with the European’s “also rans” after Andrea Atzeni took the scenic route on Poet’s Word coming around the entire field.

I found that more than a little disappointing and I would love to have heard Sir Michael Stoute’s behind closed doors assessment of the race later in the day.

Two more handicaps gave time for the bumper crowd to disperse at their leisure, but I suppose the big question is, what did we all learn at Sha Tin on Sunday.

In no particular order, putting the racegoer first reaps long term dividends as seen by the sell-out crowd, top prize money attracts top class horses, good tactics and horsemanship can win a race you might lose otherwise, and as Europeans we can compete abroad but are not quite as good as we think we are, especially in the sprinting division.

Thank you once again Hong Kong – if only the rest of the racing world would learn from your example.