In a race that shaped up as a tactical challenge, Hong Kong ‘s leading jockey general Joao Moriera led Japanese runner Neorealism to the lead on the backstretch then hung on at the end to grab a neck victory over determined Pakistan Star in the 42nd running of the 2000 meter Audemars Puguet Queen Elizabeth II Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse. Last year’s winner and the favorite Werther was a short head back in third.

The fourth win for Japan in the $2.5 million feature contest became a bit more exciting than Moriera and his horse’s connections had hoped after a slow start.

“Unfortunately, he did not break well,” said Moriera of his slow start. “We had it in mind to take the lead at the start, but it worked out well once I was able to get him to relax.”

A slow pace ceded the early lead to The United States, running for Australia. But once in gear, The 6-year old son of Neo Universe was able to capture the lead in a few jumps on the backstretch.

“The slow pace really didn’t suit us,” said Silvestre de Sousa riding Pakistan Star. “but we came so close to making that up at the end.” Hugh Bowman, who rode Werther to victory in last year’s QEII, echoed de Sousa’s disappointment at the slow pace. “We would have liked a little more speed.”

©Richard Gross

The remainder of the field were not in the contest at the end. Blazing Speed didn’t have it, finishing fourth. Early leader The United States fell to fifth place. Local runner Secret Weapon fired sixth with French runner Dicton in seventh. The 2014 QEII winner Designs On Rome disappointed by finishing last.

Trainer Noriyuki Hori said he had no immediate plans for his winning steed. “We now have a lot of options.”

Both the Melbourne Cup and the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, the Holy Grail of racing in horseracing-mad Japan, are on the table.

©Richard Gross

Together, Hori and Moriera have won three of three Group 1 races in Hong Kong, including the 2016 Champions Mile with Maurice and the Hong Kong Vase with Satono Crown. It’s likely the two will team up together because, despite language differences, the two speak “horse.”

©Richard Gross

In a related contest and the only other graded race on the card, Moriera aboard Eagle Way grabbed a late advantage to win the 2400-meter Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup by a 3/4-length margin over Helene Charisma. The win was among Moriera’s five on the day, including both graded races, with trainer John Moore saddling the top two in the Queen Mother. Gold Mount with Silvestre de Silva aboard, could only gain bronze 1 3/4 lengths back.