JAPAN'S sprint race, the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) at Nakayama Racecourse, went to a Hong Kong horse today for the first time since the triumph of the great Silent Witness five years ago.

The Hong Kong-trained Ultra Fantasy led all the way to give trainer Ricky Yiu and in particular youthful rider Alex Lai one of the great days of their lives.

It had been believed, even by Ultra Fantasy's connections, that the rain which fell on Nakayama all week had ended the front runner's chances as he definitely prefers firm ground.

But, just as he had done for Lai in the Sprint Cup at Sha Tin back in May, he kept finding a little more each time he was challenged, and in the end held on by a nose in a time of just over 67 seconds that showed how quickly the course had dried out.

Group 2 Centaur Stakes winner Dasher Go Go finished very fast to take second, and the Group 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen winner Kinshasa no Kiseki, who had looked a possible winner 200m out but just died on his run and finished third.

After an enquiry, however, Dasher Go Go was demoted for interference to fourth, which gave Kinshasa no Kiseki second and third going to San Carlo, with Dasher Go Go fourth.

Lai was thrilled as he became the first Hong Kong-born rider to win an international Group 1 race overseas on a Hong Kong-based horse, and Ultra Fantasy was the first runner to win a race of this quality for a "Hong Kong team".

“He’d lost weight when he arrived but the horse has improved day by day here,” said the winning trainer. ”My exercise rider looked after him so well. Today the more I looked at him the more confidence I felt. We got a good draw and that was just what he needed.”

“We asked the jockey tried to keep on the rails and he just did his job perfectly. Thanks for the long-term support from the owner [Mr. Lam Tai-fai],” Yiu added.

Yiu said the horse would run in the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Sprint before the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in December. “It would be great to see the rematch of my two great sprinters in November,” Yiu said.

Both Hong Kong Jockey Club Chief Executive Officer, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, and Executive Director of Racing, William A Nader were delighted with the victory. "It was a fantastic ride from Alex and a fantastic training performance," said Engelbrecht-Bresges, "and it shows yet again that Hong Kong sprinters are world class."

Reflecting on the fact that this was Hong Kong's fourth major overseas sprint victory in 18 months, Nader was equally enthusiastic: "Ultra Fantasy's victory in such a prestigious race show the great depth of talent among the Hong Kong-based sprinters.

It is a remarkable training performance by Ricky Yiu and his team to win an overseas international Group 1 event with Ultra Fantasy in his first run of the season and only two days after the great comeback success with Sacred Kingdom.

Jamaica may have dominated the 100-metre competition in the 2008 Olympics, but Hong Kong is earning a similar reputation in the sprinter division of thoroughbred racing."

Ultra Fantasy’s owner Lam Tai-fai, who was complimented by Yiu for his support, said that he would like to thank the trainer and the jockey for a great performance.

“There’s no doubt,” added Lam, “that this is a wonderful day for us and for Hong Kong. Alex Lai was very confident when we were in the paddock and he deserved the crown.”

One reason for Ultra Fantasy's triumph may have been the calmness he showed in the preliminaries which encouraged Lai even before the start as the horse usually gets stirred up.

"Then I'd ridden a couple of races earlier in the afternoon and noticed the rail was riding very well and that front runners were staying on well too," he said. "So that encouraged me too. I aimed to get to the front as quickly as possible, try and save a bit for the straight and then kick early."

Caspar Fownes, trainer of Green Birdie was understandably disappointed by the favourite's placing in seventh, but not by his performance.

"It came down to a decision on whether to go inside or outside. Mark [du Plessis] went out, which was a perfectly sensible choice but as it turned out the horse who just beat us in the Centaur went in and got the clear run through. Green Birdie finished only a couple of lengths from the front and he never knew he had a race. Full credit to Ricky though. I'm very happy for him. He totally deserves it. And just think he's got Sacred Kingdom too who's probably a few lengths better than this one!" Fownes said.

HONG KONG JOCKEY CLUB MEDIA RELEASE

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