12/11/2016 9:07AM

Satono Crown surprises Highland Reel in Hong Kong Vase

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HONG KONG – A Highland Reel victory in the Hong Kong Vase seemed inevitable in the days leading up to the race, as the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner made a fine on-track impression here.

It seemed inevitable as he was saddled, cool and collected, as an odds-on favorite. And it still seemed inevitable when Highland Reel, with 300 meters to run, having set the pace and turned away all chasers, opened up a clear lead. But quickly the preordained turned precarious. Satono Crown emerged from the pack between horses under Joao Moreira, began resolutely cutting into Highland Reel’s lead, and in the shadow of the wire cut him down entirely, winning the Group 1, $2.1 million Vase by a half-length at Sha Tin Racecourse.

It easily was a career-best performance from Satono Crown, a Japanese 4-year-old trained by Noriyuki Hori. Highland Reel was second by a mile, finishing more than seven lengths in front of third-place One Foot In Heaven, with Nuovo Record fourth.

Satono Crown had finished third in May 2015 in the Group 1 Japanese Derby, but that really was the only sign he possessed elite ability. Over yielding turf he won the Group 2 Kyoto Kinen in February, but here in Hong Kong he was 12th in April, back home in Japan he was sixth in June, and in his only start since, Satono Crown had finished 14th in Maurice’s Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn last month.

This, however, was Satono Crown’s first start over 1 1/2 miles (2,400 meters) since his good run in the Japanese Derby, and he needed every bit of the distance – plus help on the pace – to get up Sunday.

Highland Reel, the 1-2 favorite under Ryan Moore, broke decently from a wide draw and was mildly urged toward the front, making the lead and taking on the long straightaway in front of the stands. He went his first 400 meters in 25.29 seconds, fairly quick but manageable, and 800 in 49.77, but there, in retrospect, was where Highland Reel’s problems began.

Big Orange, rushing three wide into the backstraight, pushed his neck in front of Highland Reel to take the lead, and Moore, already committed, had little choice but to hold position. That meant running a hard third 400 meters in 24.55 seconds, a stressing 1. 2 seconds faster than the course standard, and Highland Reel continued on at a faster-than-par pace around the far turn and into the stretch. Everything chasing him already was enervated by the mid-race exertions and had nothing for the drive, but Satono Crown and leading Hong Kong rider Moreira were just winding up.

Satono Crown raced along the fence in 10th, 9th, and eighth, only started moving with about 500 meters to run, found a gaping path between horses in the two path with 400 meters remaining. He set off after the leader under heavy urging and caught him a few yards before the winning post. Moreira raised his arm in triumph to the sound of thousands of tickets being torn.

Winning time for the 2,400 meters over good turf was 2:26.22, close to two seconds faster than course standard, but the final 400 meters, a tepid 24.13 seconds, confirmed what was visually apparent 100 meters from the finish – Highland Reel was cooked.

Satono Crown, a son of Marju out of the Rossini mare Jiaconda, paid $40.90 to win in the U.S. He ran his career record to 11-5-0-1 for owner Hajime Satomi.