Victory in Sunday’s (April 24) HKD$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) would elevate Golden Sixty to status as the highest prize money earner in Hong Kong racing history and, if his latest win wasn’t convincing enough, trainer Francis Lui has issued an ominous warning to rivals that Hong Kong’s champion is back in a very, very big way.
“He seems to have improved his condition, he seems to be back – he showed that,” said Lui of the six-year-old gelding who sauntered to success by two lengths in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) last start.
That triumph earlier this month saw him banish successive defeats with his 20th career win as he ticked over HKD$102,000,600 in earnings and an FWD Champions Mile repeat on Sunday would see him leapfrog the current record-holder for prize money in Hong Kong – Beauty Generation, who banked HKD$106,233,750.
A cheque for HKD$11.4 million is on offer to the winner this weekend and it is well within Golden Sixty’s grasp, even second place will get him into top spot for all-time earnings with HKD$4.4 million up for grabs, while one of his key threats emerges as an unknown commodity to the Horse of the Year in the shape of California Spangle, a smart four-year-old with a high cruising speed trained by none other than Tony Cruz.
California Spangle – along with Romantic Warrior – has emerged from his four-year-old class with big wraps as a worthy contender to more established rivals this weekend after leading throughout to claim the HKD$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) before narrowly going down in the HKD$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) last month.
But a level-headed Lui remains unperturbed by his inclusion.
“He (California Spangle) will be a good horse and he’s a front-runner, it all depends on the field and the situation but I feel that my horse is the mature horse and he has had more experience,” Lui said.
Golden Sixty sits two points of shy of top-spot in the latest edition of the LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. The gelding is a five-time Group 1 winner, four-time Group 2 winner and two-time Group 3 winner from 23 starts.
“I am proud, it’s not easy to have a good horse like him,” Lui said.
Golden Sixty is aiming to complete the Hong Kong Mile-Champions Mile double in the same season for a second time, a feat also completed by Beauty Generation (2018 & 2019).
Tuesday morning at Sha Tin (April 19), Golden Sixty worked through a gallop on the turf under Vincent Ho, clocking 1m 22.4s (31.1, 28.2, 23.1) alongside a partner horse.
“He felt good, he was very relaxed and when I asked him to join up (to the partner horse) he picked up nicely, the other horse travelled quite strongly but we went passed him in a couple of strides,” Ho said. “He definitely felt better today, so I’m happy with that.”
Last year, Ho collected a pair of Group 1s on FWD Champions Day with Golden Sixty as well as Loves Only You in the HKD$25 million Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m); this year, the 31-year-old hops aboard Zebrowski for Caspar Fownes in the 10-furlong feature.
“It was definitely one of the best days, the Derby with Golden Sixty and December, too, but Champions Day with Golden Sixty in the Champions Mile and Loves Only You in the QEII Cup was something very special, it wasn’t a usual day that’s for sure, it was special,” Ho said.
Zebrowski has raced nine times in Hong Kong, winning three times including a pair of Group 3 contests, the Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley and Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin.
“I think so (to getting a chance), some horses are Group 1 winners or have won the Derby, so it’s a challenge for us but he’s got ability, so let’s see,” Ho said. “He’s still very young and I think he should improve.”
Across this weekend’s HKD$65 million showcase, Lui will be three-pronged with an even spread across the trio of Group 1s, saddling Cheerful Days in the FWD QEII Cup (2000m) and Lucky Patch in the HKD$20 million Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m).
Cheerful Days steps up to 2000m for the first time this Sunday in the FWD QEII Cup – armed with Zac Purton – and Lui remains hopeful that his rapid-riser will successfully see out the trip.
“We took off the blinkers and he’s been more relaxed since then,” Lui said. “His form is also very good, just this time we don’t know how he will run over 2000 metres but I think he will suit the distance.”
The Smart Missile gelding has won six races this term, prevailing in Class 4, 3, 2 and 1.
“I didn’t expect him to get here so quickly but he’s improving all of the time, he just keeps on winning,” Lui said.
Pleased to see the resumption of cross-border horse movement between Conghua and Sha Tin, Lui has Lucky Patch in a bid for Chairman’s Sprint Prize glory in what will be his first outing since his involvement in the 2021 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) mishap.
“If he could have come back earlier for a run it would have been better but this time, I hope he has got his confidence back,” Lui said. “He seems ok, his barrier trial at Conghua looked good.”
On Wednesday night (April 20) at Happy Valley, Ho and Lui will combine in the first section of the Class 3 Cha Kwo Ling Handicap (1200m) with Rising From Ashes, a newcomer to Hong Kong who finished third last start in only his fourth run for Lui.
“He’s tall enough but he’s quite skinny, he’s still not that mature yet and in the mornings he’s still very nervy but he has the speed, especially from gate two over 1200 metres and of course, this trip suits him more than 1000 metres – he should run well,” Ho said.
Rising From Ashes (119lb) also faces You’remyeverything (131lb), Meridian Genius (128lb), Prance Dragon (123lb), Never Too Soon (121lb) and Triple Triple (120lb).