Acceleration is perhaps the most priceless asset a racehorse can own and Rattan (126lb) used his turn of foot to telling effect at Sha Tin on Saturday afternoon to land a Panasonic Cup that prompted delight for Chad Schofield and a powerful sense of “what might have been” from connections of the pair who chased him home.
Winning trainer Richard Gibson missed saddling the 200th winner of his Hong Kong career due to a trip to Europe to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday but can look forward to other major days with a gelding who quickened at the key moment to get the better of Conte and the Zac Purton-ridden Little Giant in a pulsating finish.
Rattan quickens best under Chad Schofield to land a dramatic Panasonic Cup, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
However, the reaction of those closest to the placed horses suggest that this is a race that may well have a significant bearing on plenty good races to come.
Runner-up Conte (118lb) had Umberto Rispoli bemoaning a wide draw which he felt cost him the race while paying a handsome tribute to “one of the most beautiful horses I’ve ridden in my life.”
Little Giant’s trainer David Hall hinted that two LONGINES HKIR options are still on the table after his troubled passage under 126lb from stall 10, but Schofield was left beaming at how “one of my favourite horses” erased memories of a frustrating, narrow defeat aboard Glorious Forever in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse.
Purton had dictated to Schofield aboard Time Warp in last week’s feature but this time Schofield was able to settle into a perfect midfield slot as Little Giant edged his way across in behind from his wider stall.
Rispoli was forced to work hard to set a true pace aboard Conte from even wider out in stall 14, but the effort of doing so took a toll close home and Rattan swept by late to score by a neck with Little Giant the same distance away in third despite throwing down a highly impressive 22.12 secs for his final 400m.
Schofield, clearly thrilled to have got one over on Purton this time, said: “Rattan’s been a great horse for me - that’s the fourth time we’ve won together - and he’s improved a lot.”
“I thought he was a live chance going into last year’s Derby. He didn’t quite get the trip there but he has a very good turn of foot over 1400m or a mile and I believe he could run next in the Chevalier Cup over a mile here on November 25.”
Rispoli was clearly frustrated to be collared late on Conte but was also proud of the way John Size’s powerful gelding battled on his first run since June.
“He’s an amazing horse and I think he would have won with a better draw,” he said. “That was his first run in Class 1 and his first run of the season so to do that from such a wide gate tells you how much ability he has.”
Hall didn’t have too much time to digest Little Giant’s performance as he was straight back into the fray with a winner as Matthew Poon, completing a double, forced Nuclear Power ahead close home in the Panasonic Kitchen Handicap (1200m).
However, the Aussie handler remains firmly of the opinion that Little Giant “lost no admirers whatsoever in defeat” and will consult with the Wizard Syndicate before deciding on whether to take a crack against the elite performers in either the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint or LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
“I think you have to say it all came down to the barrier,” he reflected. “You can only imagine how much closer Little Giant would have been early on with stall 3 rather than 10 and I have to think he could have won with the box seat run.
“It’s not the perfect scenario to think about going into Group 1 company after a defeat, but if he’d won today we would almost have been forced to go to one of the International races.
"Let’s see what the owners have to say but, put it this way, the question of whether to go for it will definitely be asked."
Freedman finale ends on a positive note thanks to Whyte and Honest Way
Michael Freedman marked his final day as a trainer in Hong Kong with an emotional winner when Honest Way came with a perfectly-timed challenge under Douglas Whyte to land R2.
Whyte had promised he would help send the departing handler out with a winner during a midweek dinner and Freedman - returning to train in Australia for personal reasons - was keen to look forward rather than back as he reflected on his frustrating 15-month stay.
“It’s been a bit of a rocky road, for sure, but we’ll chalk it up to experience,” he said. “I’d love to have a horse good enough to come back here for one of the International races in the future - that would be high on the bucket list.”