Timing is everything, especially when you are riding a horse called Beat The Clock, and Joao Moreira judged the fractions perfectly when claiming his first Group One for John Size in Sunday's Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin.
John Size's gelding had shown all the reliability of a vintage Swiss timepiece - placing in all 17 previous starts - but four Group One ventures had seen him come up short including when dead-heating for second with Mr Stunning behind D B Pin in this race last year.
That pair loomed as his main rivals again and Moreira faced a tricky choice between Beat The Clock and fellow Size star D B Pin which was resolved when both horses trialled just over a week ago.
D B Pin clocked much faster finishing splits when chasing home Mr Stunning on that cool Friday morning, but Moreira sensed something that wasn't detectable on the stopwatch in the way Beat The Clock powered clear of an ordinary field from the front.
There was no need to make the running this time as Little Giant and D B Pin set a true early pace and Beat The Clock stalked on the rail into the straight with Mr Stunning pushed along in midfield by Karis Teetan.
Beat The Clock gave D B Pin a brief nudge as he was eased outside with 300m to run but quickened on demand soon after.
Mr Stunning showed all his trademark courage to throw down a strong challenge, but the winner never looked like surrendering and held on by a neck in a winning time of 1m 08.42s, just less than a second outside of Sacred Kingdom's record set in 2007.
Teetan felt Mr Stunning “still ran good” despite travelling less fluently than normal. Sam Clipperton reported that D B Pin “just wasn't his normal self” in beating only one home but Silvestre de Sousa was more than happy with the way Winner's Way stayed on to pip Fifty Fifty for third.
Meanwhile, Moreira was thrilled to gain a first win at the top level in Hong Kong since Season's Bloom's Stewards' Cup success on this card a year earlier, though the Brazilian felt the race didn't go exactly as expected.
“Things went quite differently than we thought,” he said. “I didn't think Little Giant would lead, but fortunately I was able to get through on his outside and my bloke just attacked the line very strongly. The last hundred metres he started to pull up and wait for the others but he was too good. He had that burst of speed and good horses do that.”
Size, who was saddling his first Group One winner since Ivictory won the Chairman's Sprint Prize last April, said: “Beat The Clock has taken his time to break through to Group One level but he always promised to do that and today the race was suitable for him and he managed to salute.”
Size is cool on the idea of an overseas campaign and needs no reminding that Beat The Clock is likely poised to come against the might of Beauty Generation in what promises to be a thrilling rematch for the Gr.1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) on 17 February.
“Beat The Clock looked like winning that race and he didn't - so now we know why,” he reflected with a rueful smile.
The form book shows that Beat The Clock crept up on Beauty Generation's inside to draw level inside the final 200m last February only to go down by a head as the winner rallied.
Moreira is looking forward to taking on Hong Kong's superstar again, but Purton is hoping the result is the same.
“Joao let out a roar when he came upsides me that day but the noise just seemed to spur Beauty Generation on again,” he recalled.
The stage is set for another heavyweight battle next month, then. It's Size v John Moore; it's Moreira v Purton; most of all, it's Beat The Clock v Beauty Generation. And, if the race is anything like last year, then Moreira won't be the only one roaring.
Beat the Clock is a graduate of 2015 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run Sale of 2yos when purchased for $200,000 out of the draft of Prima Park. -HKJC
A battle royal between two exceptional sprinters but Beat The Clock and Joao Moreira find just enough to hold old rival Mr Stunning in Centenary Sprint Cup. John Size's gelding was gaining his first G1 win at the fifth attempt #HKracing pic.twitter.com/LxmRpLhiz6— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 20, 2019