Champion’s Way confirmed his early position as the front-runner on the road to next season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series with a classy win in the Group 3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin this afternoon, Sunday, 2 June.
“The target next season is the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, he won’t race again this season,” the Australian-bred three-year-old’s owner Dr. Arthur Leung said.
Trainer John Size observed: “Now he’s rated 100-and-something, and that’s a pretty good mark for a four-year-old to start the new season on – it’s about as good as it gets.”
It is a rare thing for a three-year-old to win a Group race in Hong Kong. Three years ago, Rapper Dragon won the inaugural edition of this race to buck that status quo and went on to become the first horse to sweep the Classic Series, winning the Hong Kong Classic Mile, Hong Kong Classic Cup and the BMW Hong Kong Derby the following season.
Champion’s Way (118lb), in securing his sixth win at his seventh career start, appears well-placed to kick on into a successful four-year-old campaign. But while today’s victory enhanced the Australian-bred’s reputation, it also showed that there is a roughness to his edges.
“I thought he should have won more easily than he did,” jockey Joao Moreira said of the 1.8 favourite. “When I asked him to quicken, he picked up for me and felt like he was going to go on and win well. But he just snaked around again, he shifted and that cost him something.
“He still needs to learn but I’m not worried for the future. He’s a young horse and he is still learning so you have to be happy with what he has done so far and it looks like he will only get better next season.”
Moreira settled the Hinchinbrook gelding one off the fence, mid-pack in the nine-runner field, as the talented four-year-old Ka Ying Star (122lb) led. When the Brazilian shifted out on the final turn, his mount was brimming with power and quickened like victory was assured.
However, after edging the lead with 200m to race, the bay veered out. He hung again approaching the winning line but was a half-length to the good over Ka Ying Star when it mattered.
“If he’s got something to run at and has horses around him, he’s probably better schooled,” Size said. “If he has a couple of months off and comes out for his eighth start he’s probably going to do everything right. He hasn’t had any gear on him, he’s just done everything on his own; we haven’t tried to help him much because he keeps winning.
“I think he did a respectable job,” the champion trainer continued. “They went out a little bit hard early and when they slowed up he had to make that adaption, which is not easy for a young horse. To win the race he had to get going – he probably had to be the first horse to move so it was a bit of a test of his racing aptitude, which obviously he hasn’t developed yet, and he still got away with the win. It was full of merit actually, I’m pretty happy with that.”
Size’s Insayshable (123lb) took third, a further neck away, with Hong Kong Classic Cup hero Mission Tycoon (119lb) in fourth.
Moreira enjoyed another fine day in the saddle. The three-time champion collected a treble, starting with the Danny Shum-trained Gorgeous Again in the opening Class 5 HKU Jockey Club Student Villages Handicap (2000m).
He added another win in race four, the HKU Faculties of Business & Eonomics and Science Handicap (1200m), when the Size-trained Red Desert dug in for a head success.