12/08/2016 3:30PM

Maurice can end career on high note in Hong Kong Cup

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Maurice hopes to end his career with a win in the Hong Kong Cup on Sunday.

HONG KONG – The best races have brought out the best performances from Japanese star Maurice. If Maurice has saved anything close to his best for last, he will go out a winner Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse in the Group 1, $3.2 million Hong Kong Cup.

The 5-year-old Maurice, who goes to stud following the Hong Kong Cup, generally has been excellent, scoring 10 wins from 17 starts. He has particularly excelled in Group 1 races, winning five of six. His loss, a second-place finish, came in May when Logotype led on a muddling pace in the Yasuda Kinen.

Maurice prefers racing behind cover but was caught out in the open, pressing two wide, and pulling too hard. As he tried to find his balance turning for home, Logotype kicked clear. By the time Maurice got down to business, it was too late.

Otherwise, Maurice has been all business in top-level races. He’s a two-time Group 1 winner at Sha Tin, having outfinished the mighty Able Friend in the Hong Kong Mile on this card last year before returning to win the Champions Mile in January. His connections stretched Maurice out from one-mile races to the Cup’s 1 1/4 miles this fall, and after a second-place finish in the Group 2 Sapporo Kinen, Maurice proved his effectiveness at the distance by decisively winning the Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn.

“I thought 2,000 meters was probably his best performance,” jockey Ryan Moore said shortly after that win. “He’s very strong, he’s got a good turn of foot, and he was dominant today. He couldn’t have been more impressive. He has a big heart, big lungs, and at a mile, he could go farther.”

Moore rode Maurice in the Mile a year ago and has the mount Sunday, by which time he and trainer Noriyuki Hori will have plotted tactics to land Maurice his preferred outside stalking trip. The Cup is run around two right-handed turns, begins close to the first of them, and Maurice is well drawn in post 8 to find the right spot.

There’s little doubt who will be leading, as the mercurial A Shin Hikari drew the rail and almost certainly will come out running. Those tactics were employed one year ago when A Shin Hikari, then a horse of no great accomplishment, shot to the front, set a good pace over a track still drying out from heavy rain, and won the Hong Kong Cup by one length.

“He really just ran us all off our feet that day,” said jockey Neil Callan, who rode Blazing Speed to a third-place finish last year and is on the same horse Sunday.

But A Shin Hikari has not looked like the same horse in his two most recent races. He traveled to France in the spring and destroyed a solid field in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan, but A Shin Hikari was not right when finishing sixth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and wilted to 12th after setting the pace in the Tenno Sho Autumn. It’s possible that A Shin Hikari, who also makes his final start, was badly in need of a post-layoff run; he did work encouragingly here Wednesday.

Blazing Speed is part of a local bunch that has taken turns winning the better 2,000-meter races on the circuit while failing to clearly delineate a pecking order. Blazing Speed is 0 for 2 this Hong Kong season. Neither of his starts unfolded suitably; both he and Designs on Rome on their day are as good as Secret Weapon, who captured the local prep for this race last month but never has won a Group 1.

Another Japanese horse, Staphanos, is not without an upset chance, while Elliptique will try to emulate the French horse Vision d’Etat, who won this race in 2009, though he would have little hope of beating an in-form Maurice or A Shin Hikari.

The Cup is the last of four Group 1 races on a 10-race card that begins at 12:25 p.m. local time, 11:25 p.m. Saturday night on the East Coast. The first major race, the Vase, is race 4, post time 2 p.m., with the Cup scheduled for 4:30. The grass course here is fast and firm, and the weather Sunday is forecast to be mild and dry. The races will be widely televised in North America, and wagering is available through DRF Bets.