Beauty Generation is facing a strong challenge for Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year award this season and anything but a record third straight victory in the HK$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile on Sunday, 26 April, could see the crown go to Golden Sixty, perhaps Exultant, maybe even Waikuku or Beat The Clock.
“If Beauty Generation doesn’t win the Champions Mile, I’d think it might swing Golden Sixty’s way,” the superstar’s trainer John Moore said.
But the world champion miler and his connections are not ready to relinquish the title just yet.
“I think he’s in with a serious chance of winning the Champions Mile and getting Horse of the Year for a third time,” Moore continued. “He’s the old boy on the block so when it’s a tight call he just might get the vote because, allied to his achievements, he’s a public favourite and there’s that admiration for him.”
Horse of the Year is a big deal in Hong Kong – as coveted as an Eclipse Award in North America, more highly-prized than a Cartier in Europe. The accolade is handed out at a glitz and flashbulb ceremony at the end of each season but it’s no afterthought, not in this town; not to the owners whose silks are glorified and not to the trainers who understand how important saddling an outright champion can be to their business in such a famously competitive environment.
No horse has won it three times in a row – River Verdon’s three titles spanned four seasons in the 1990s, as did Silver Lining’s in the 1970s – but Moore has an incredible record as a trainer. His stable stars have collected nine outright titles in all, including an unbroken streak through each of the last seven seasons. His big-name Horse of the Year victors include Viva Pataca, Able Friend and Designs On Rome, as well as the current champ.
“It holds a lot of kudos,” Moore noted. “The Kwok family, with what they’ve put into racing, I think they’d be thrilled if he won a third Horse of the Year and he’ll deserve it if he wins on Sunday.”
The Patrick Kwok-owned Beauty Generation first won the Horse of the Year title in 2018 and it is strange to think, looking back, that it was no forgone conclusion, with the enigmatic Pakistan Star having bagged two brilliant Group 1 scores to end the term. His second title in 2019 was so emphatic as to be a case of ‘the rest nowhere’, coming as it did off an unbeaten campaign of eight straight wins.
This season, though, Beauty Generation’s mantle of invincibility slipped, exposing vulnerability, as the seven-year-old dipped beyond his indomitable peak through four straight defeats – thus began the gradual decline in prowess that comes with the passage of time.
The natural descent from a lofty pinnacle that had him rated 127 – the equal highest in Hong Kong history alongside the Moore-trained Able Friend – coincided with the rise of a new force, the brilliant four-year-old Golden Sixty, who capped seven straight wins this term with a sensational closing dash in the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
“Any thought of Horse of the Year was definitely dropping off the radar with the younger brigade coming to the fore. Waikuku looked to be the one around mid-season and then Golden Sixty came out and won the Classic Series so it looked beyond us,” Moore admitted.
Against Golden Sixty’s claim on the top honour is that he has not raced at the highest level, a fact that prompted his rider Vincent Ho to suggest he’d “probably not” wrest the crown this year. But Moore’s Rapper Dragon took Horse of the Year in 2017 despite the lack of a Group 1 win on his curriculum vitae.
Rapper Dragon was the first horse to clean-sweep all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, a feat Golden Sixty matched this year. Rapper Dragon added the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy against his elders before his sad and untimely demise in the Champions Mile, whereas Golden Sixty has not raced since his brilliant Hong Kong Derby display; but the precedent is there and suggests Golden Sixty might take the title should Beauty Generation, Exultant – the reigning middle-distance/stayer champion – or Waikuku fail to dazzle on FWD Champions Day.
Golden Sixty – like Beat The Clock – has already been wrapped up for the season; his connections opted for rest rather than attempt to defeat Exultant and seal Horse of the Year with a triumph in Sunday’s HK$25 million FWD QEII Cup (2000m).
That leaves a muddled picture.
“Waikuku ran no race last time,” Moore pointed out, “and all of a sudden Beauty Generation has had a new lease of life. That’s been due to a change in gear and workload, and he’s come out and won a Group 1 and a Group 2 so he comes back into the picture for Horse of the Year.
“We know Golden Sixty hasn’t met him and I was expecting to see them take on each other in the Champions Mile but they chose to consider the QEII Cup and now they’re taking a step back to wait for next season, which I must confess took a bit of sweat away from my brow!
“I do think Golden Sixty is seriously talented and he would have run a big race against Beauty Generation had he run in the mile. But that’s not to be,” he added.
Beauty Generation’s third consecutive win in the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) in February took his top-flight haul to eight wins, while his second successive win in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) made him the first horse in Hong Kong history to break the HK$100 million prize money barrier, and matched the achievements of the great Silent Witness and 1970s star Super Win in winning 18 races as a Hong Kong-trained galloper.
Those achievements are epic, and while he might not be the 127-rated titan of last year, the champion is still the boss around Sha Tin and that gives his camp hope that a Horse of the Year hat-trick is back on the agenda.
“If we can win the Champions Mile on Sunday, he’d have to be a serious chance of being Horse of the Year again,” Moore concluded.