Wellington banished early season setbacks with a classy win in last month’s Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and, this Sunday (3 April) at Sha Tin, the talented bay tackles the Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) as he gears up for his shot at joining elite company with the defence of his Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) crown next month.
Six horses have retained their Chairman’s Sprint Prize mantle since the race’s inception in 1979: Semper Laetus (1981 & 1982), Mystic (1985 & 1986), Quicken Away (1989, 1990 & 1991), Mr Vitality (1995 & 1996), Silent Witness (2004 & 2005) and Lucky Nine (2013 & 2014) – an illustrious club forged in Hong Kong racing folklore.
And now, taking shape as Hong Kong’s unofficial kingpin of the sprint division, jockey Alexis Badel knew right from the beginning just how special Wellington could become.
“I’ve ridden several important horses but throughout my young career in Hong Kong, he has been the beginning of a lot of things, I knew since day one that he was a very, very important horse and that he was very good, since then I knew that he was top quality and as soon as you sit on a horse like this you know.
“The way I would describe his quality is related to his turn of foot – he always has a very good final sectional (time) in the straight and that makes him a very, very good horse, it makes a big difference between a good horse and a Group 1 horse – a true champion and he’s got that quality.
“When he is in good form, he has that explosive turn of foot that can make up a lot of ground over a short period of time and that’s his true quality, it was interesting to see him last time over 1400 metres, he was very relaxed but now we’re back to 1200 metres,” Badel said.
Wellington kicked off his 2021/22 campaign a month later than usual after he was found to be lame in October, but patience paid off as the bay charged to his second Group 1 success on Gold Cup Day (20 February) at Sha Tin, exploding through challenging conditions to enhance his earnings to HKD$25.94 million with his eighth win at only his 14th start.
“He certainly needed a bit of time to get back to his best fitness and condition, that’s understandable and, of course, he was a Group 1 winner so there were a lot of expectations around him this season,” Badel said.
Wellington was without luck in the 2021 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) before he was cramped for room in January’s Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m).
“He just took a bit of time to get back to his best level and we respected that, gave him plenty of time and it was a little bit frustrating for a moment, but he showed that he was back to that level last start and he did it in style,” Badel said.
Trainer Richard Gibson has triumphed twice in the Sprint Cup previously with Dundonnell (2015) and Rattan (2019), while Badel is chasing his first win in the race this weekend.
“Richard knows exactly what to do with Wellington and I’m very grateful for the job he has done with the horse – to maintain his health and condition, also to give him plenty of time without giving me any pressure when the horse wasn’t ready – that was an amazing team effort and this is the reason we saw the horse return to his best level,” Badel said.
The Frenchman partnered Wellington in a grass gallop at Sha Tin last Saturday (26 March), clocking 1m 30s (32.8, 32.2, 25.0).
“His gallop was good, he’s in good form and I was very pleased last time to see him back to his best and hopefully he can carry on and keep his form, hopefully the setbacks are behind us and, now we can just go forward and do more good things,” Badel said.
Since making Hong Kong his permanent home after several successful short-term stints, Badel has enhanced his overall tally to 146 wins with 31 through this campaign.
“The field is good quality with a few rising stars this Sunday but it’s interesting to see what he will do; I believe he is in good form and his recent work was good.
“When you come to a place like Hong Kong and being a jockey, you want to win the big races and it’s very important to find a horse like Wellington, I’m very grateful to have the chance to ride a horse like this, it means everything as a jockey to win big races,” Badel said.
Once the second retained rider for The Aga Khan, Badel slammed 104 wins in through the 2015 French Flat Racing Season – form he has carried to the Far East where he now sits firmly entrenched within the upper echelon of the city’s riding ranks.
This Sunday, Badel reunites with Tourbillon Diamond in the HKD$4.75 million Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) as the pair builds towards next month’s HKD$25 million Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) on FWD Champions Day.
“I believe he is going to be ok (this weekend); the horse is in good condition, and he’s had plenty of time after his latest run and I think 1600 metres won’t be a problem, he looks in good form so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Badel said.
Tourbillon Diamond is a two-time winner in Hong Kong, landing his biggest prize in the 2021 Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin.
“He’s in good form, Danny’s (Shum) stable is in good form and the horse has been great, he tries very hard, so I believe he will be there, that he’ll run a strong race,” Badel said.