NINE-year-old Star Empire, who started his career in Durban in June of 2009, confirmed Mike de Kock’s pre-race assessment that he was “fresh as a daisy” when he mowed down a field of younger horses to win the Longines Master Collection Handicap over 2000m at Meydan in Dubai on Thursday night.
Star Empire joined Blue Stables in Dubai in 2010 and had his first run for his new owner Mohammed Khaleel almost exactly five years ago, finishing third on 20 January 2011 before winning a stayer’s contest over 2485m on the old all-weather track at Meydan on 3 February 2011.
Star Empire, eye on the winning post! (Photos by Andrew Watkins).
The bay gelding has raced another sixteen times since, bagging two wins and 11 places. His biggest payday was a second to Brown Panther in the 2015 Gr2 Dubai Gold Cup, and after Thursday’s quite surprisingly easy success his career earnings (with currency conversions applied from statistics at hand) are in the region of $US900,000.
In South African terms, that’s on average well over R1-million a year for every year of Star Empire’s life and jockey Sam Hitchcott will be thanking his lucky stars for securing the ride on the game old money machine who happened to be at the top his game at the start of his sixth Dubai Carnival!
Hitchcott rode a patient and well-judged race. Star Empire turned for home last but one and well out of his ground, but once in full stride he started closing in hand over fist, got to the leaders with 100m to run and won going away.
To the winner’s circle: Jockey Sam Hitchcott on Star Empire.
Hitchcott said: “This was my first ride for Mike and thanks to the team for telling me about the horse. Christophe Soumillon said Star Empire takes time to get going. I had to ride him uncomplicated, ride him cold. In the straight I pulled him wide for a run to get him rolling!”
Mike commented: “Star Empire was working the best of my three. Christophe would have ridden him if he wasn’t contracted to Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum. But Sam rode a good race, well done to him.
“Star Empire hasn’t won first-up at the Carnival before. This was a very satisfying win for us, horses like him only get four runs a year. Sometimes we complain about training old horses, but I wouldn’t mind a few more nine-year-olds like this one. I’m surprised they didn’t give him an attendance award tonight!”
Asked whether Star Empire would be raced along the same preparatory route for the 2016 Dubai Gold Cup, Mike said: “He will be penalised by the handicapper so we will probably have to rethink one or two of his next runs.”
The stable had a good start to the Carnival with a win, two thirds and two fourths and with the likes of Mubtaahij, Ertijaal (AUS), Tannaaf, Tellina, Liquid Mercury, Mastermind and others being prepared for forthcoming meetings, things look well on target for big season.
Mike commented: “The eight-year-old Prayer For Relief ran a cracking race in third, in the Al Maktoum Race 1. It was heartwarming because he’s come a long way. Declan Cronin did months of rehabilitation on the horse’s feet. Prayer For Relief worked without shoes for a year, he was shod for the first time again today before the race. On what he showed tonight he could be a feature contender this season.
“Sanshaawes gave another honest account and earned a stake. Atomic Rush made a good comeback, we kept him out of trouble and he ran on. he will improve. Anaerobio was stuck for running room, he could’ve finished closer than fourth.”