California Spangle victorious in the Hong Kong Mile (HKJC)
By Declan Schuster
It was a case of third time lucky for California Spangle at Sha Tin this afternoon (Sunday, 11 December) as he sensationally denied Golden Sixty’s record-equalling G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) hat-trick bid in front a raucous 42,624 crowd.
Beaten by Golden Sixty in the 2022 G1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) and last month’s G2 BOCHK Private Wealth Jockey Club Mile (1600m), California Spangle reversed the result with his first-top level crown for trainer Tony Cruz and jockey Zac Purton.
“I’m very proud of the horse. I expected him to win (Hong Kong) International Races one day and lucky I have Zac with me. Zac rode the perfect race today,” Cruz said.
Stepping away cleanly under Purton, the four-year-old fired forward before denying a brave Golden Sixty by a neck in 1m 33.41s for the trip, while Laws Of Indices and Beauty Joy filled third and fourth places, respectively.
Injecting a bit of mid-race pace into the contest, Beauty Joy found the front at the 800m mark ahead of his stablemate (California Spangle) before fading late. The win is California Spangle’s ninth from 14 starts in Hong Kong, including victories in last season’s Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and this season’s G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) and G2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m).
“We planned the tactics and how to ride the race, but everything can change in seconds and somehow it turned out to be so fantastic.
“California Spangle is a rising horse and with Golden Sixty, age has come to catch up with him. I think this is where we got the advantage,” Cruz said.
The win is Purton’s fourth in the race after the victories of Ambitious Dragon (2012), Beauty Only (2016) and Beauty Generation (2018), while the success is Cruz’s fourth also after Lucky Owners (2003), Beauty Flash (2010) and Beauty Only (2016).
“It was pretty straightforward early. Tony pre-race asked me if I could just let the horse roll along a little bit more than we did last time. He’s a lot more relaxed this season and he kept coming back underneath me. I kept trying to click him along but he was waiting for the other horses, I think we’ve seen today that he is a little bit versatile. When Beauty Joy came around him he was happy to let him go and it helped him think about what was going on. He got into a lovely rhythm in behind and wanted to chase him.
“Then when he got clear of him he wanted to wait a little bit which was a worrying time for me when I could feel Golden Sixty breathing down my neck again. Today I thought he had me at the 200 (metre mark) and then at the 100 (metre mark) I thought, ‘he hasn’t quite got me yet.’ We kept trying and we were lucky to get the result today,” Purton said.
Cruz is confident of bigger and better things from his talented charge: “Young horses like California Spangle can improve his character in time. It’s easy to train a horse to get fit but it’s how you train a horse in his mind. That is the hardest bit of it.
“I believe Spangle’s racing mind is turning more professional, and he’s getting better all the time. Obviously when you have a great jockey like Zac, you don’t make mistakes anymore.”
California Spangle enhances his earnings to a mouthwatering HK$48,878,300 after collecting HK$17,100,000 for first place.
“He’s very good. He’s shown right throughout his career he’s a horse that deserves to be in the top echelon,” Purton said. “It took Golden Sixty to beat him last time and I think Golden Sixty is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here and there’s no disgrace in that.
“Every run he’s had, he’s put in. He’s a phenomenal horse and he’s versatile. He’s won over 1000, 1200, 1600, 1800 and just got beat over 2000 (metres) Not many horses can do that.”
Defeat for Golden Sixty was just the champion’s fourth across his career which boasts 22 wins, including six at Group 1 level for trainer Francis Lui and jockey Vincent Ho.
“My horse ran very well and I’m happy for him. The other one had good pace and saved all the ground,” Ho said.
Jockey James McDonald was elated with the performance of Laws Of Indices for trainer Annabel Neasham: “He went enormous. It was unreal. I’m so proud of him.”
Hong Kong racing continues this Wednesday (14 December) at Happy Valley.