Richard Gibson hopes it will be a case of history repeats in the HKD$24 million Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (12 December) after his mercurial speedster Wellington drew gate 11 in a field of 12.
Pitting his stable flagbearer against elite Japanese talents Pixie Knight, Resistencia and last year’s winner Danon Smash – as well as the best Hong Kong can muster – Gibson was hoping for a softer draw.
The Englishman was fatalistic after the barrier draw ceremony before quickly reflecting on Danon Smash’s triumph under Ryan Moore last season from barrier 14.
“In the Sprint you want some draw assistance and we didn’t get the draw assistance, but last year’s winner was drawn 14 and if he (Wellington) is good enough, that’s where he comes from,” Gibson said.
“I think he’s sharper than he was in race one (the Group 2 BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint, 1200m on 21 November) and he trialled really well the other day, so he’s in good shape.”
Much responsibility will now fall upon Frenchman Alexis Badel’s shoulders to plot a winning path on the All Too Hard gelding, who has six wins from eight starts on Sha Tin’s 1200m course.
Winner of the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) on 25 April, Wellington has had an interrupted preparation ahead of Sunday’s test but, at his best, the five-year-old remains a formidable force.
As deflated as Gibson was post-draw, David Hayes is pinning his hopes on Naboo Attack’s ideal draw of gate six in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) to post the stable’s second victory in the race following All Thrills Too in 2002.
“It’s a good barrier, you don’t have to go too far back and he’s a swooper,” Hayes said of the giant gelding who will be ridden by Karis Teetan. “He’ll probably settle mid-field now. Last time he won, that was the position he settled in, so we’re very happy.
“I really haven’t studied the opposition yet at this stage, but I won’t swap my barrier for any of them.”
Tony Cruz seeks his 11th LONGINES HKIR triumph with Ka Ying Star and Berlin Tango in the HKD$30 million Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
Cruz, 64, has won each of the four LONGINES HKIR Group 1s at least once and has figured successfully in the Hong Kong Cup with California Memory (2011 and 2012) and Time Warp (2017).
Cruz hopes to reprise a winning association in the Cup with Matthew Chadwick, who was aboard California Memory in both triumphs, and rides Ka Ying Star on Sunday.
“Barrier six is perfect for us. He’s a one-paced horse and at his last start, we could have won the race but he missed the jump. This time, he should be right in a handy position and I reckon he’ll be right in the finish,” Cruz said.
“Stepping up to 2000 (metres) seems more like his distance really and I think he’ll be very close in the race. Matthew knows the horse very well and he’ll be in a handy position.”
Vincent Ho teams with Berlin Tango from an adjoining gate after the Dansili gelding drew barrier five.
“He’s always been very unlucky and he’s taken time to adapt to the ground in Hong Kong but I believe he is crying out for 2000 metres. I believe this is distance, I believe he will be very close in the finish,” Cruz said.