Voyage Warrior and Duke Wai square off in hot Saturday sprint

Voyage Warrior
Voyage Warrior dazzles over 1000m.

Two of Hong Kong’s rising stars will clash at Sha Tin on Saturday (8 February) when speedsters Voyage Warrior (133lb) and Duke Wai (118lb) meet in the Class 2 Choi Hung Handicap (1200m).

A second win this season for Voyage Warrior not only would continue his trajectory towards the elite level but also help trainer Ricky Yiu in his quest for a first trainers’ premiership, having lost the lead to Francis Lui at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.

Yiu’s Australian-bred chestnut indicated a bright future when he cruised to an easy four length debut win last season and then added a further two successes, with his sole defeat that term coming at the hands of the subsequent Group 1 placed, Thanks Forever.

This season didn’t begin as expected though, and after disappointing as a dominant 1.7 favourite first-up, the four-year-old then faded to 10th next time. Those efforts prompted his handler to mix things up.

“Voyage Warrior has been back and forth to Conghua since then – he’s now more relaxed and he’s done well heading into the weekend,” Yiu said, before adding “he’s a fresh horse – it was six weeks ago when he won and he’s freshened up nicely since then.”

The Declaration Of War gelding bounced back from those defeats with an easy three-length score down the 1000m straight on New Year’s Day but Saturday’s test poses a different threat as he tackles 1200m for just the second time, having failed at his previous attempt.

Voyage Warrior has the distinction of being one of only three horses in the past decade to have dipped below 55 seconds over 1000m at Sha Tin, the others being Yiu’s world champion Sacred Kingdom and current track record holder, Aethero (54.69s).

“I think he’ll be fine around 1200 (metres), his pedigree suggests he may even get further but first we have to see how goes on the weekend,” the handler said.

“Although Voyage Warrior hasn’t done much over 1200 (metres) with only the one start early this season, he has shown me that he’s more mature, he’s settled down and he’s learned to relax. So, this time, with the good draw I hope they will go at a fast pace so we can take a sit and settle somewhere close in the run.”

Yiu is winless since 15 January and the five-win lead he held over Lui has been reeled in and overtaken. He now finds himself one win behind.

But on Saturday Voyage Warrior will lead eight stable entries, including the in-form Preciousship (121lb) in the day’s other Class 2, the Choi Wan Handicap (1600m), as Yiu seeks to regain some impetus.

Chad Schofield will ride Voyage Warrior who will break from gate one as the highest rated horse in the field, following an 11-point rating rise for his last-start win.

“He’s going to carry a lot more weight now and he’s obviously going around a bend over 1200 (metres) but he’s drawn perfectly and let’s hope he can live up to expectations,” Schofield said.

“I’m yet to ride him but since he started his career in Hong Kong he’s always had a massive rap on him and his win last start showed just how good he is.”

Schofield returns after missing eight meetings due to suspension and the 25-year-old is upbeat about his chances on the weekend as he resumes with a good book of nine rides.

“Any suspension in Hong Kong, even your stock-standard two meetings, you always find you lose momentum and it takes a while to pick up and get going again, but to kick off with nine rides and a few chances, it’s really pleasing and let’s hope I can convert them to a winner or two and get the ball rolling,” the jockey said.