History beckons for Time Warp

Time Warp holds off Werther in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. Source: HKJC

Hong Kong has three senior mile-and-a-quarter races and no horse has won all within the limits of a single season. Time Warp is placed to re-write that fact.

Trainer Tony Cruz’s powerful chestnut has snared the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup and the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup already this term, and on Sunday, 29 April, the granite-willed galloper will attempt to add the HK$24 million Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup to complete a unique set.

“Anything’s possible, man,” Cruz said, with a tilt of his cap, as he paused midway across the Sha Tin turf track this morning, Tuesday, 24 April.

Time Warp has ruled the 2000-metre run of that verdant circuit this term with two powerful make-all displays, a style of winning uncommon over that distance in Hong Kong where 10 furlongs is considered a stiff stamina test; where a frenetic run to the fast-approaching first turn usually gives way to a sedate middle section, and then the drive for home.

The five-year-old’s trainer is confident that the British import is primed for anther bold game of catch-me-if-you-can.

If Time Warp pulls it off, he will also become the first offspring of a past winner to succeed, his sire, the late Lanwades Stud stallion Archipenko, having dashed to victory for trainer Mike de Kock in 2008.

“Time Warp’s a very strong horse, he’s healthy and there are no bad tricks about him – no bad habits,” Cruz said.

“He’s been very well since that last race, he pulled up fine and I’m very happy with him – he’s spot on for this race.”

But that last effort was some way removed from Time Warp’s dominating best. The Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy over a mile on 8 April saw the season’s 2000m king unravel, retreating from vanguard to tail through the final 300m.

Cruz offered the shorter distance as being the reason for a clearly sub-par run. Zac Purton, the man in the saddle, feels there was perhaps another, indeterminate, factor at play.

“I’m at a loss to explain why he ran as poorly as he did last time because he trialled well going into the race, he looked fantastic in the parade, he felt good going to the gate, so I was disappointed with the effort he put in,” Purton said.

“I know it was a pretty solidly-run race but he’s handled that pressure previously and raced better than that, so I’m not buying that as an excuse, especially when Beauty Generation was on my back and finished a length and three quarters off them carrying the same weight.”

On the face of it, Time Warp’s Chairman’s Trophy run mirrored his 10th-place finish in the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup at the mile back in January. Just as his last race was his first since a barnstorming win in the Hong Kong Gold Cup, so the Stewards’ Cup was his next outing after a brilliant Hong Kong Cup victory.

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“It was completely different,” Purton opined. “In the Stewards’ Cup, he missed the start and his rhythm was always out of whack, but in the Chairman’s Trophy he was going well and felt really good in the run; I know I was going fast but I thought I was still going to be pretty hard to beat.”

Beauty Only took the latter prize in a time of 1m 32.84s. In the past 11 years, only Good Ba Ba has won over 1600m at Sha Tin in a faster time, the great miler clocking 1m 32.71s in the 2008 Hong Kong Mile.

Time Warp himself pushed the clock into virgin territory in February when winning the Hong Kong Gold Cup, becoming the first horse to go inside two minutes for 2000m at Sha Tin. To do that, the Martin Siu-owned gelding had to rally hard to fend off past champion Werther.

“Some of them have the character to be able to handle tough races consistently and others have one run like that and it pulls them apart. But he did it a few times already – he went hard with Joao (Moreira) in the 1800 and then was able to back it up in the Hong Kong Cup,” Purton said.

“I think he’s the type that can handle it, he doesn’t knock himself around in the mornings, he’s a big horse, he’s not weak – I think he has the constitution to keep doing it.

“But when you get to the end of a long season and they’ve done it a few times, it is in the back of your mind, that question of whether or not they can keep producing. But you can’t worry about it – they’ll either do it or they won’t.”

Time Warp faces arguably his toughest test yet. Whilst the field is only eight in number, it features two top-class raiders from Japan, Al Ain and Danburite, as well as a new local challenger in last month’s sensational Hong Kong Derby (2000m) victor, Ping Hai Star – and, of course, Time Warp’s mercurial stablemate, Pakistan Star.

“I just hope last time was just one of those things,” Purton added. “Getting back to 2000 metres is his preferred distance; it’s only a small field so we’ll just see what happens.”

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