Golden Sixty reigns supreme in gripping Stewards’ Cup showdown

The Francis Lui-trained Golden Sixty, ridden by Vincent Ho, takes the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin.

Underlining enduring greatness with a towering performance to claim victory in a blockbuster Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin, Golden Sixty could be bound for the international stage as Francis Lui and Vincent Ho plot future conquests for Hong Kong’s champion.

As Hong Kong’s benchmark performer over the past three seasons, Golden Sixty unleashed a trademark terminal sprint to eclipse two younger pretenders to his throne – Romantic Warrior and California Spangle – to extend his record for the most Hong Kong wins (23 from 27 starts), while boosting his prize money to an unmatched HK$129,690,600.

Beaten in the 2022 Group 1 Stewards’ Cup by Waikuku when attempting to equal Silent Witness’ streak of 17 consecutive wins, Golden Sixty’s redemption materialised in facile fashion as Ho patiently stalked Zac Purton on California Spangle, who was flanked by Karis Teetan and Romantic Warrior.

As Purton idled California Spangle through a sedate first 800m in 49.12s, Ho calmly bided his time before Teetan – racing at the leader’s flank – struck first as the trio rounded the home turn, urging dual Group 1 winner Romantic Warrior to challenge California Spangle in a clash of three world-class talents.

Sitting behind California Spangle, Ho angled Golden Sixty into clear running inside the final 200m and accelerated sharply as his two adversaries weakened, coming away to score by a length as the remarkable seven-year-old swept over the final 800m in a slick 44.63s for an overall time of 1m 33.99s.

2023 Group 1 HK Stewards’ Cup Replay – Golden Sixty

Underscoring the trio’s class and superiority, there was a three and a half length gap from California Spangle to dual Stewards’ Cup victor and multiple Group 1 winner Waikuku at the end of what is likely to remain one of the world’s top-rated mile races for the year.

Ho, who has repeatedly acknowledged the quality of last month’s Group 1 Hong Kong International winners Romantic Warrior and California Spangle, was elated at securing Golden Sixty’s seventh Group 1 and second Stewards’ Cup triumph after a contest which lived up to pre-race hype.

“I’m just very happy for Golden Sixty. The team did great work after the last race and to come back to his optimum fitness was great,” Ho said, referring to the gelding’s runner-up performance behind California Spangle in the Hong Kong Mile (1600m).

“I still believe that he (Golden Sixty) is one of the best horses at a mile – you still have to respect our opponents – but I have to trust my horse.

“He was very comfortable (in the run) and this year he has not pulled, so when he jumped very well, he still dropped the bit and made it even easier for me to handle him and decide what position I wanted to get.

“If I wanted him to be faster, he will be and if I drop my reins, he will relax. So, when Zac picked the pace up at the half mile, he (Golden Sixty) still followed through very nicely without any effort. I think Golden Sixty still has the best turn of foot out of the three.”

Justifying Lui’s pre-race confidence, Golden Sixty’s withering response when driven into the gap separating California Spangle and Romantic Warrior as the battle intensified in the straight was sufficient for Ho and Lui to canvas international options post-race or to instead target the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin on February 26.

“I still would like to go (overseas) but we will see how he pulls up,” Lui said. “I had a little bit of confidence before the race. Everybody could see Zac’s horse would lead and Teetan’s horse would follow, and they both can have a chance to win the race, so in this race I’m not worried if anyone can block my horse.”

Ho said Golden Sixty had been entered for the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at Meydan Racecourse on March 25 with consideration also given to the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) at Tokyo Racecourse on June 4.

“We have to see how he pulls up and we’ll discuss with the team. We have entered the Dubai 1800 on turf as well, so that’s another thought. I think it’s a good race for him and it can be a ‘prep’ race for him if we go to Japan because it’s left-handed and he can get used to the heat and all that,” Ho said. “There are a few options for us.

“Karis’ horse (Romantic Warrior) will be very strong in the 2000m (Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup).”

Danny Shum, Romantic Warrior’s trainer, said the 2022 Hong Kong Derby winner had run a good race, while Tony Cruz said California Spangle had no excuses.

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