Golden Sixty's Reign At The Mercy Of The Rain

Golden Sixty | HKJC photo

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HONG KONG, CHINA — According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the city's weather forecast agency, about 230 millilitres of rain had fallen between the first of the year and Apr. 25. Of that amount, fully 200 mls have been recorded since the first of this month and the vast majority of that has occurred this week, as rain–at times heavy enough to completely obscure the top of the Sha Tin straight course–thunder and lightning have been just this side of relentless.

The considerable precipitation has the connections of Hong Kong's three leading lights for Sunday's FWD Champions Day meeting a little concerned, maybe even more than a little.

Golden Sixty (Aus) (Medaglia d'Oro) is Hong Kong's three-time defending Horse of the Year and will try to win the G1 FWD Champions Mile for a record-extending fourth straight time in what many believe will be the final start of a truly remarkable career. After overcoming the 14 hole and belying a 224-day absence to win the G1 Longines Hong Kong Mile for a third time last December, his lead-up to Sunday's race has been sub-optimal, including an injury scare that cast a fair amount of doubt on his very participation. He's been away for 139 days this time and has the underfoot conditions to deal with from gate seven, with Vincent Ho at the controls for the 31st time in his 31 starts.

“The barrier draw isn't a worry, only the weather will be,” said trainer Francis Lui. “Now, he's very professional and he looks after himself. I think his condition has come up just in time.”

Golden Sixty shows one race on rain-affected ground, a third to the at-home Russian Emperor (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the 2000-metre G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup in 2022 when he was routinely ridden further back in the field. It's an effort that is best taken with a grain of salt.

Middleham Park Racing LX's Brave Emperor (Ire) (Sioux Nation) is one who would appear to enjoy easier conditions, as he is a perfect four-from-four on tracks listed as soft or heavy. The four-length winner of the G2 Vittoria di Capua in bottomless ground in Milan last November, the bay gelding showed he handles a sounder surface when holding out Cairo (Ire) (Quality Road) in the $500,000 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup in Qatar Feb. 17.

Trainer Archie Watson said in the immediate aftermath of that performance that the Champions Mile was the plan, and Arc-winning rider Luke Morris is looking forward to the challenge.

“He's had a nice break since Qatar and once we knew he could perform on a fast surface, the Champions Mile was always on the radar, so he's been prepared perfectly. We've got him exactly where we want him,” Morris said.

Other logical challengers are Voyage Bubble (Aus) (Deep Field {Aus}), runner-up in the Hong Kong Mile and next-out winner of the G1 Stewards Cup, and Galaxy Patch (Aus) (Wandjina {Aus}), who is down in trip after just missing in the BMW Hong Kong Derby over 10 furlongs.

California Spangle In The Same Boat…or Ark

There are a few similarities between Golden Sixty and California Spangle (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}), who looks to add Sunday's G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize to previous elite-level conquests in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup and the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai. Each has drawn barrier seven in a field of 11 and like the champ, the underfoot conditions give connections some cause for pause.

“We will have to see, but I am not very confident and I prefer a good track,” trainer Tony Cruz said. “You have got to know where you are because (on) a good track, we all know he can perform and we don't want a wet track to gamble on.”

Despite heavy rains earlier in the week at Happy Valley, the Wednesday evening meeting was held over 'good' ground and depending on the timing of rain over the weekend, the quick-drying Sha Tin could ride quicker than anticipated.

“This track really is amazing compared to any track in the world,” Cruz said. “No matter how much rain there is, it can turn out to be a very good track, still.”

California Spangle | HKJC

Though California Spangle is well clear on ratings, the two horses closest to him have form over easier ground. Moyglare Stud-bred Mad Cool (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), eighth to the sidelined Lucky Sweynesse (NZ) (Sweynesse {Aus}) in the G1 Longones Hong Kong Sprint in December, makes the short ship after narrowly saluting in the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen in yielding ground last month. Victor the Winner (Aus) (Toronado {Ire}) was a pacesetting third in that contest, three lengths adrift, and will be put into play early from gate two by Derek Leung.

Highclere Thoroughbred Racing's Believing (Ire) (Mehmas {Ire}) jets in for the ambitious George Boughey, with something to find with the race favourites. Winner of the G3 Prix Texanita at Chantilly last May, the 4-year-old was a close third in the G1 Sprint Cup at Haydock in September. She was last seen finishing in the last third of the field and well beaten in the G1 British Champions Sprint S. Oct. 21.

“She's got some form on softer going but, ideally, we'd have wanted it on the quicker side,” her jockey Harry Bentley commented. “Ideally, we'd jump and sit close to the pace, if we can sit in a box-seat position we'd be very happy.”

'Honour' Takes Different Path Into QE II

When Dubai Honour (Ire) (Pride of Dubai {Aus}) arrived into Hong Kong for last year's G1 FWD QE II Cup, it was on his way back home after a pair of cracking victories in Group 1 company in Australia. While he covered himself in glory when third to Romantic Warrior (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) and Prognosis (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), he comes into this event off a visually impressive three-length success in the Listed Magnolia S. over the Kempton all-weather Apr. 1.

Dubai Honour's win in Australia's version of the Queen Elizabeth came over easy ground, and connections wouldn't mind the current weather pattern to hold on through the weekend.

“The rain keeps coming down, so that's kind of the thing we're most excited about,” said exercise rider Issy Paul. “He's coming here a lot fresher, which is a big benefit. He feels great.”

Dubai Honour | HKJC

Romantic Warrior looks for his third straight QE II after once again winning the G1 Longines Hong Kong Cup and G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. James McDonald is on another hit-and-run mission this weekend for owner Peter Lau.

“We have never raced on yielding or soft before, so we don't know if it will be good or bad,” Lau told South China Morning Post. “We are concerned but fingers crossed.”

Prognosis has a bad habit of breaking slowly, and he'll want to be as close to perfect on Sunday, as there is little margin for error. That said, when things go his way, he is a top-class individual and his five-length romp in the G2 Kinko Sho at Chukyo six weeks ago makes him a proper threat.

Three of the last 10 runnings of the QE II have been taken by 4-year-olds exiting a win in the BMW Hong Kong Derby–including Romantic Warrior in 2022–as they try to prove their mettle against unrestricted and world-class competition. Massive Sovereign (Ire) (No Nay Never) has a chance to join a list that also features Vengeance of Rain (NZ), Designs on Rome (Ire)  and Werther (NZ), and while leading jockey Zac Purton knows it won't be easy, he's also not willing to trade places with anyone.

“Obviously a massive job when he comes out of a Derby, so it's a good test for him to see where he is at and that's the exciting part about this stage of the season,” the Australian said. “Coming through the Derby he has gone against racing against 4-year-olds here in Hong Kong to going against some of the world's best.”

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