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ECJ’s colt in dramatic win to stamp elite class

South African jockey Glyn Schofield aboard Prized Icon and owner/breeder Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. (inset).

MANILA, Philippines – San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr.’s Prized Icon scored a stunning come-from-behind victory to win the Group 1 level Victoria Derby with a 2 1/2 length lead over the pack before a crowd of 90,136 at the Melbourne Cup Festival recently as the 3-year-old brown colt surged from behind seven horses to break away with 100 meters left in the 2,500 meter race.

There were 16 starters in the AU$1.5 Million event and Prized Icon, with South African Glyn Schofield aboard, was a 17-to-1 longshot.  The colt started at Fixed Odd Betting as high as 31-to-1, dropped to 25-to-1 and settled at 17-to-1.  Hot favorite Sacred Elixir came in second.  The week before, Sacred Elixir topped a 2,040-meter race at the Moonee Valley track in Melbourne and Prized Icon finished fifth so there were initial doubts that Cojuangco’s horse would impress at the Derby.

Prized Icon made his entry in the elite circle with a first-ever Group 1 win at the 1,600-meter Champagne Stakes in Sydney last April.  Trainer James Cummings, 28, said while Prized Icon hadn’t been tested in a long distance battle, he was convinced the colt could make an impact at the Derby.

The win further cemented Cojuangco’s legacy as the only Asian to be inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Cojuangco was enshrined in Brisbane last year as John Messara, chairman of New South Wales Racing, cited the businessman-sportsman as “one of the most accomplished owner/breeders of the last quarter century who has made a significant contribution to racing.” Cojuangco bought his first horse in Australia in 1959 and later acquired Gooree Park, now the home of 274 horses, including 60 for racing, in Mudgee, about 270 kilometers northwest of Sydney.

According to Gooree Park Group of Companies business manager Jeanette Mangahas Tioseco, the Cojuangco stable has won almost 180 group and listed races, including 33 in the elite Group 1 level where the prize money ranges from AU$300,000 to 6 Million.  Among Cojuangco’s Group 1 winners were Hallowed Crown in 2014 and 2015, Speak Fondly in 2015, Romantic Touch and Your Song in 2013 and Laser Hawk in 2012.  The list also includes Don Eduardo, Mr. Murphy, Snowland, Tempest Morn, Typhoon Zed and Veloso.

Prized Icon is a third generation Gooree homebred horse with Cojuangco also having bred the mother Tropical Affair and grandmother Just As Lovely.  He was sired by the stallion More Than Ready out of the dam Tropical Affair.  “Prized Icon has proven a profitable horse for the punters over the journey,” said the Australian racing site Full Form and Latest Odds.  “If you had backed Prized Icon throughout his career, you’d have achieved an 83 percent return on investment.”

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Cojuangco wasn’t in Melbourne when Prized Icon swept to victory at the Derby.  He watched on TV in a Sydney hotel and was on his feet in the last 400 meters as Prized Icon stepped on the gas.  “Prized Icon will always be special to me,” said Cojuangco.  “Back in 2014, we placed the horse on the sale list at the Inglis Yearling Sales in Sydney but at the last minute, I had a change of heart.  I looked at the horse and thought maybe, I should keep him.  It was too late to take him out of the sale so I placed an AU$300,000 reserve price for the horse.  As it turned out, nobody took interest in buying at that price.  I paid a commission for the reserve price for my own horse but no regrets.”

Cojuangco said it’s too early to name Prized Icon one of the top three horses ever in his storybook stable.  He singled out Manila and Kapalaran as his top two horses of all time.  Manila topped the 1 1/2 mile Breeders Cup Turf at Santa Anita in 1986 and won nine major US races before suffering an injury and retiring to stud duty at a syndicated price of US $20 Million in 1987.  Manila died in a stud stable in Turkey in 2009.  Kapalaran won four races in Australia in 1978 and set off Cojuangco’s string of victories Down Under.  Manila and Kapalaran were two of several Cojuangco horses to boast of the owner’s Filipino heritage.  Other horse winners with a Filipino ring included Barkada, Pasikatera, Palaban and Tarlac.

“Right now, there are too many horses who could be No 3 in my all-time list,” said Cojuangco.  “Surely, Prized Icon is a candidate but let’s see how far he goes. The Victoria Derby win was significant because it was in Group 1 and it was a dramatic win over a 2,500-meter course. Maybe, he’ll race again in March or April.  There’s a lot of interest in Prized Icon at the moment.”  Among Cojuangco’s other standout horses were Smart Missile (wins in Groups 2 and 3 in 2011), Northern Meteor (the 2013 First Season Sire of the Year awardee) and Desert War (New South Wales’ 2007 Horse of the Year and Middle Distance Horse of the Year awardee with six Group 1 wins).

Cummings is the trainer of Cojuangco’s horses in Gooree. He comes from a long line of successful horse trainers with his great-grandfather Jim, grandfather Bart and father Anthony winning a combined seven Victoria Derby trophies through the years.  Cummings and his wife Monica, Cojuangco’s granddaughter, were in Melbourne to witness Prized Icon’s victory two weeks ago.   

Australian Racing Hall of Famer Gai Waterhouse recently paid tribute to the San Miguel Corp. chairman, saying “under Mr. Cojuangco’s watch, the type of horses that are born and bred at Gooree are second to none.”  It was a fitting recognition of Cojuangco’s efforts to raise the Philippine flag proudly overseas in the so-called Sport of Kings that is close to the heart of millions of Filipinos. His induction into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame as the only Asian is an honor not only for the Philippines but also for Asia.

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