12/11/2016 8:40AM

Maurice recovers from shaky start to win Hong Kong Cup

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HONG KONG – Just to make things interesting, Maurice jumped in the air at the start of the Hong Kong Cup.

He thus lost all early position, got buried along the rail for much of the running – and it still wasn’t a fair fight.

Maurice, under a wonderfully patient ride from Ryan Moore, found room when he needed it the final 400 meters and delivered electric acceleration to win the Group 1, $3.1 million Hong Kong Cup by three lengths Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse.

It was Maurice’s second triumph on Hong Kong's biggest day of racing, Maurice having won the Hong Kong Mile here one year ago. Stretched out to 1 1/4 miles the second half of this season, Maurice might have been even more effective in the Cup.

“He’s very good at a mile, but he’s possibly better at 10 [furlongs],” Moore said. “He’s a big strong horse and he’s [gotten] better with racing. He’s just been a pleasure to ride.”

It was the second Group 1 win on the card for trainer Noriyuki Hori, who saddled Satono Crown to victory in the Hong Kong Vase to open the major-stakes action. Nori was coy when asked to confirm that the Cup had been Maurice’s last start before going off to stud.

“That’s what the newspapers say,” he said through an interpreter.

Maurice came out of the gate on his hind legs, came down with a clunk, and was in last by the time he found his feet. Moore guided him to the fence as the horse that broke from the fence, A Shin Hikari, sped off to the lead, setting an intemperate tempo under Yutaka Take. A Shin Hikari’s first 400 meters was a moderate 26.79, but he went his next 1200 meters (about six furlongs) in 1:10.01, almost three seconds faster than the Sha Tin par for that section of 2000-meter races at the Group level.

Maurice raced 10th of 12, pinned on the fence, poking his head about eagerly trying to find a place to run, but if the horse was anxious for room, his jockey sat coolly on his back.

“Fortunately there was good pace in the race, and halfway down the back I thought it was setting up nice for him,” Moore said. “It was just a matter of finding the room.”

At the end of the far turn, the horse in front of Maurice peeled off the fence, seeking running room of his own, and Maurice quickly took that spot. There were two more rivals directly in his path at the 400-meter mark, and Moore split them, going two wide. Now it was only a tiring A Shin Hikari in his path, and Maurice caught him in 10 powerful strides, running up so fast on the leader that it took a nifty move to shift outside and avoid him. And like that, the Hong Kong Cup was over.

“As soon as he found the room and I put him in the game he just let down and ran exceptionally well. He finished off an easy win. He got to the leader early and then he was just easing up them really. He’s improved every time I rode him,” Moore said.

The Hong Kong-based Secret Weapon, who had been examined by the vet just before the start, rallied from seventh to get second, no match for the winner but a half-length in front of two more Japanese horses, Staphanos just edging Lovely Day for third. A Shin Hikari, who had got loose briefly in the walking ring before the race, faded to 10th. The winner was timed in a fast 2:00.95 for 2000 meters on good turf and paid $3.20 to win in U.S. betting.

If the newspapers are correct, and Maurice indeed is retired, he goes to stud having put together an exceptional career, a multiple Group 1 winner with an overall record of 11-2-1 from 18 starts and earnings of more than $9.21 million. Maurice, who is owned by Kashumi Yoshida, is a son of Screen Hero out of the Carnegie mare Mejiro Frances. Screen Hero is a son of Grass Wonder who was by the good American grass sire Silver Hawk.