Racing: British double at Sha Tin

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The Independent Online
Hong Kong is handed back to the Chinese at the end of next June, but they will have to wait a little longer for two of the colony's most precious treasures. The trophies for the Vase and the Cup delivered at the Invitational meeting at Sha Tin yesterday were heading westwards as Luso and First Island respectively exhibited that Hong Kong is much more fertile territory for British-based horses than either the Breeders' Cup meeting in north America or Australia's Melbourne Cup.

As the swollen crowd witnessed the valuable card early yesterday morning British time, it was difficult to imagine the site was nothing but water just over 25 years ago. Since then 250 acres have been reclaimed from Sha Tin Bay with spoil taken from the top of one of the local mountains.

Frankie Dettori, as has become his custom, bestrode the arena yesterday, and he would have probably danced over the Sha Tin surface had it remained in its original state. The Italian is surfing on a tsunami of self-belief at the moment and there was something joyous about his handling of Clive Brittain's Luso in the Vase. It was the jockey's first view through the ears of the big horse, though he has seen his rump disappearing into the distance several times before in Group races around Europe.

Luso was uncorked quickly at the outset of the 12-furlong contest and was soon travelling keenly in third on the rail. When the straight was reached, and the challenge of Michael Stoute's Sacrament arrived and disappeared like a pantomime genie, Dettori imperceptibly switched his mount's snout inside and from then on only the winning distance was of academic interest. "Frankie allowed him to get a lead and turning for home I knew that what came past us had to have the help of God," Brittain said. "The jockey is riding with such confidence. Frankie is on top of the world and he is doing everything right."

Dettori was only slightly less admirable in the Bowl, despite the fact that, riding Tagula, he could finish only fourth to Australia's Monopolize. Ian Balding's runner was drawn virtually in Peking on the outside and this left his pilot with little option but to drop him in behind the entire field and weave his way through a chicane of horseflesh to claim some place money.

Britain's true disappointment in the event was confined to the problems which befell Iktamal. Ed Dunlop's sprinter had been working exceptionally well in the build-up to the race, but sustained damage to a suspensory ligament which prevented his participation. He lives to fight another day, a sentiment which cannot be applied to another Bowl candidate, Comeinalittlehot. The American horse was stricken by bouts of diarrhoea and eventually he had to be put down with the effects of pneumonia.

There were dramatic absentees too from the Cup, when Da Hoss, Michael Dickinson's Breeders' Cup Mile victor, and his fellow American visitor Mateo failed pre-race drugs tests. Both horses tested positive for anabolic steroids and their trainers are now facing legal action from the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Da Hoss's omission made the Cup a far easier assignment for the Sussex Stakes winner First Island, who was dropped in a lazy last place by Michael Hills before swooping around his field, which included Brittain and Dettori's representative Needle Gun, in the home straight. First Island must have an iron-plated constitution to go with his class as he has been on the go since January, yet there was no sign this journey had diminished him. In explaining this factor, it became clear that Geoff Wragg, the colt's trainer, had been watching a John Wayne movie on the flight to the Orient. "He shipped over real well," the Newmarket man said.

First Island's jockey, Michael Hills, reported: "The pace was nice, so I relaxed at the back and then I moved up ready for a position turning in. From then on I was just saying to myself "don't go too soon Mike". I felt something coming at the end, but my horse had hit the front and done his job and I felt he had a bit more left."

Earlier this year Hills won the Derby on Shaamit and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on First Island's stablemate, Pentire. He can now go out both with happy memories and a winner. This was his last ride of the year.

RICHARD EDMONDSON'S NAP: Floosy (Ludlow 3.40); NB: Just One Canaletto (Ludlow 2.10).

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