There was fist-pumping and whooping, high-fives and firm clasps for all hands within reach of the Rise High camp; deflation and ‘brave face’ acceptance from the Beauty Generation team.
The champion’s win streak ended at 10 after a third-place finish in the G2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) this afternoon (Sunday, 20 October) – his first defeat since 8 April, 2018.
“It was wonderful,” trainer Caspar Fownes said after his 16/1 shot had tugged Beauty Generation’s mantle of invincibility to reveal a chink of vulnerability.
“How can you expect that? Beauty Generation is such a superstar, a champion horse. I was just saying walking over with my boys, that’s what racing’s about – champions get beat and let’s hope we do it today.”
Beauty Generation’s unexpected reversal at odds of 1.3 came one day after Europe’s star stayer Stradivarius had his own winning run ended at 10, and followed the defeat two weeks ago of Europe’s darling Enable, who failed to make it 13 in a row when second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“Just forgive him for it – wait for set-weights and see what happens,” Beauty Generation’s trainer John Moore said, noting the 14lb weight concession to the winner.
“It just wasn’t run to suit either, he’s a better horse when he’s left to run along but when he’s in the box seat like that he just doesn’t show the same turn-of-foot. It was just circumstances that prevented him from rolling along like he likes to. You could see he was heavily-restrained in behind and he just wasn’t comfortable like that.
“I’d have rather had a wider gate and been able to come across and be where he wants to be but getting gate two was probably the negative about the whole thing. He’s pulled up ok.”
Zac Purton was pleased, to a degree, with his mount’s effort under a burden of 133lb: “He still ran well,” he said.
But the Sha Tin faithful are accustomed to seeing their pink-hooded hero roll his rivals, either by galloping relentlessly from the front or sitting outside the pace and then quickening powerfully off the final turn.
This time, Purton settled Beauty Generation behind a front two of Ka Ying Star (113lb) and Glorious Forever (117lb). When he pulled three deep for a run with 600 metres to race, the crowd was expectant, but this time his burst to the lead did not take him clear.
Not one but two rivals had his measure. Waikuku (115lb) stalked ominously under Joao Moreira while the Vincent Ho-ridden Rise High (119lb) threw down a seismic challenge down the middle of the track. The challengers passed the champ together at the 150m mark and drew two lengths ahead – Rise High bagged the win by a neck.
“He jumped well but he was still fresh so when they steadied the pace down he began to over-race but he’s genuine enough to still hold his spot okay and wasn’t doing too much. They picked up at the right time and when Joao on Waikuku went after Beauty Generation, I just got the gap and I knew he’d have a really good turn-of-foot,” Ho said.
Rise High stopped the clock at 1m 32.82s off the back of a rattling closing 400m split of 21.60s, the 11th fastest ever at the end of a mile at Sha Tin.
“I’m very emotional, very happy – I’ve been saying it for a while, I think Rise High’s the next big thing in Hong Kong,” Fownes said.
“Saddling-up today he was on, he was really on, he nearly hurt himself. He was kicking his back legs and just kept knocking the inside of his hock – I was like ‘ease up dude!’ but he’s well and once we get him to the right trip it’s exciting times ahead. I’ve said it for a while.
“You’re not going to screw them down first-up but at the same time you want to see them close off in a nice mile, which he was always going to do. To come out and win is a massive bonus and to beat the champion is even better.”