Trainer Roger James will have been disappointed that it wasn't the luckless He's Remarkable's day in the Makfi Challenge Stakes on Saturday. But he must have taken some pleasure from seeing Ocean Park, the son of one of his most talented horses, return to a great reception from the crowd after his powerhouse performance in the opening Group 1 race of the 2012-13 season - a race in which he stamped himself as one of the best four-year-olds in Australasia.
James trained Sayyida throughout her brief racing career in 2003. The daughter of Zabeel showed enormous potential before suffering an injury in the Group 2 Avondale Guineas that not only ended her career, but threatened her life. The sad sight of her limping off the track and being cautiously helped into a float is hard for anyone who was at the track that day to forget. But fortunately she was saved, and now the Sayyida story has been given a happy ending, thanks to Ocean Park's Hastings heroics on Saturday. One of her offspring has been able to do what she had appeared destined to do herself - become a Group 1 winner.
Many thought Group 1 glory would be only a matter of time for Ocean Park. His performance in winning the Wellington Stakes by four lengths in January was something only special horses can do, and he'd measured up to the very best three-year-olds on both sides of the Tasman.
But his performance to break through for that first Group 1 win on Saturday was better than anything he'd done before. It had to be - he was up against an exceptional field, was having his first start since late March, was running over a distance short of his best and was running on a track which, although it had improved, was more rain-affected than he'd ever won on before. But none of those obstacles were enough to stop him, and his explosive turn of foot carried him to a one-length victory.
Ocean Park was a little slowly away and settled towards the rear of the field early, but he steadily improved down the back straight. Straightening for home, he'd moved up to around eighth or ninth position, but he was still boxed in on the rail.
Last season's champion jockey Lisa Allpress had to decide whether to stay there or try to move to the outside to find a clear run. She chose to bide her time on the inside, expecting gaps to start to open up as the hectic early pace took its toll and horses began to fade. A narrow opening presented itself just before the 200m mark. Seemingly without Allpress even having to urge him, Ocean Park dived through that gap. His acceleration was phenomenal. He flew from seventh to first within 100m. The horses on either side as he dashed through the gap - high-quality racehorses in their own right - appeared to be standing still. Ocean Park will be playing no further part in the Rush Munro Hawke's Bay Spring Carnival, as the Melbourne spring beckons. The Underwood Stakes later in the month is set to be his next start, and some of the big ones are on his agenda - the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate.
One of the main contenders in an Ocean Park-free Windsor Park Plate at Hastings on September 22 will be Xanadu. The talented mare's performance to take second place on Saturday was full of merit, and she was travelling almost as quickly as the winner in the closing stages of the race. She looks set to love the extra 200m of the September 22 feature.
The 68-1 outsider Justanexcuse fought strongly all the way to the finish to hold on to third place. He'll be back for the Windsor Park Plate, and he could feature again with a similar performance.
One horse you can expect better from is Saturday's beaten favourite, Mufhasa. The nine-time Group 1 winner was given a torrid time in front by outsider Khemosabi. The two had a brutal, energy-sapping duel down the back straight. That battle clearly took its toll on Khemosabi, who dropped out to finish a long last. Mufhasa refused to lie down and finished fourth.
Guiseppina finished well down the outside to take fifth. The other real eye-catching performance in the race was Innovation, who was last for most of the race but flew home along the inside. She was less than four lengths from the winner at the line, and the extra 200m will be ideal.