Hong Kong’s ‘Big Three’ set for Stewards’ Cup showdown

December 20, 2022

Romantic Warrior wins the 2022 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) (photo Hong Kong Jockey Club)

By Declan Schuster

Next month’s G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) is set to be a blockbuster renewal with a trio of Hong Kong’s equine heavyweights – Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and California Spangle – expected to lock horns in the HK$12 million feature at Sha Tin on Sunday, 29 January, 2023. 

Fresh following a devastating G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) triumph this month, Romantic Warrior will be set for a Hong Kong Triple Crown campaign which kicks off with the Stewards’ Cup before the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) in February and G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) in May.

Unlike many other Triple Crowns from around the world, Hong Kong’s is not age restricted and has only been achieved once in history – by the great River Verdon back in 1994. 

If successful in all three legs, 2021 Hong Kong International Sale graduate Romantic Warrior will pick up a HK$10 million bonus, however, standing in his way is a rematch with California Spangle and a first meeting with dual Hong Kong Horse of the Year (2020/21 & 2021/22) Golden Sixty.

Trainer Danny Shum believes the Stewards’ Cup will be the biggest hurdle Romantic Warrior will face in his Triple Crown bid: “It’s a good race! It will be the focus of the world, the Triple Crown is the goal this season. I think he can handle the 2400 metres, just the first run over 1600 metres is the difficult one against Golden Sixty and California Spangle.”

Romantic Warrior is the joint-highest rated horse in Hong Kong (130) with Golden Sixty, while California Spangle holds outright second spot on 129. Romantic Warrior boasts nine wins from 10 starts and a whopping HK$62.19 million in earnings. 

“It will be a good race but it won’t be easy, those are good milers, they’re champions – my horse is good but 2000 metres is better, I wouldn’t be afraid of them but 1600 metres will be tough,” Shum said. 

Karis Teetan will ride Romantic Warrior in the Stewards’ Cup having partnered the Acclamation gelding to victory in the 2022 Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), 2022 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and 2022 G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m). 

“He’s pulled up well and Karis (Teetan) has come to the stable each day to ride him. He’s happy with the horse,” Shum said.

Golden Sixty is Hong Kong’s highest earning horse in history.

Golden Sixty will chase a second win in the Stewards’ Cup. He prevailed in 2021 before his 16-win unbeaten streak was halted by Waikuku in the 2022 edition of the race.

“Golden Sixty is ok – no problems, he is healthy and he now goes to the Stewards’ Cup. It will be a good race to watch. He still wants to fight,” trainer Francis Lui said.

Now a seven-year-old, Golden Sixty won first-up in the G2 BOCHK Private Wealth Jockey Club Mile (1600m) over California Spangle before his younger adversary reversed the result in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) on Sunday, 11 December at the HK$110 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.

Golden Sixty has banked HK$122.85 million across his record-breaking career and Lui is remaining open to the option of travelling the 130-rater abroad in 2023.

“We will see, I still haven’t decided. Of course, Japan, it’s closer and easier to get to but we will see, it is too early to tell. Dubai is another option but in March, he still has to race here,” Lui said. 

A winner of nine races from 14 starts, California Spangle has enjoyed a sparkling rise and his trademark front-running style of racing will once again be looking to light up Sha Tin in next month’s Stewards’ Cup. 

Nordic Dragon’s chasing a Hong Kong Classic Mile berth

Danny Shum’s star Hong Kong International Sale graduate Romantic Warrior rose to the top of his age bracket last season and after unveiling Nordic Dragon last month, the handler is remaining optimistic of following a similar path towards a Four-Year-Old Classic Series tilt with his sale-topping HK$7 million purchase.

Engaged in the second section of Wednesday’s (21 December) Class 3 Saturn Handicap (1200m), Nordic Dragon (119lb) – bought out of the 2022 Hong Kong International Sale – returns after a smashing three and a quarter length debut win over the course and distance under Vincent Ho in November.

Nordic Dragon Impresses under Vincent Ho.

“He runs this week and then I will plan to bring him to Sha Tin for 1200 metres or 1400 metres, it all depends on how he runs on Wednesday. If it is possible, I will run him in the Hong Kong Classic Mile – he will be a four-year-old, so that’s the plan,” Shum said. 

The Hong Kong Classic Mile is the first leg of the three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series and it will be run on the same day as the Stewards’ Cup – Sunday, 29 January, 2023.

The second leg is the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), while the third and final leg is the BMW Hong Kong Derby. Only Rapper Dragon (2017) and Golden Sixty (2020) have swept all three legs.

Starspangledbanner three-year-old Nordic Dragon will break from gate eight this week and is up in grade after rising 11 rating points for his first-up win.

“It was a good win first-up and he’s improved. He’s a nice horse, he’s very professional and when I bought him he weighed around 1,080 pounds but now he’s over 1,140 pounds. He’s growing and he needs to be stronger, so that he can become a good horse,” Shum said. 

Scotch Tycoon (123lb) also features in the race for trainer Francis Lui and will step away from gate four under Lyle Hewitson.

“He’s not too bad, I think during the off season he had a sore back or muscle tightness but now he’s ok, he needed the first-up run. Happy Valley suits him,” Lui said.

Excellent Peers (135lb) is after a hat-trick of wins and pairs with Hugh Bowman in the same contest for trainer Frankie Lor.

“At this moment it’s hard to know but if he wins one more then maybe in Class 2 with a light weight, that might still be ok,” Lor said.

Excellent Peers – a son of Jimmy Choux – boasts four wins from 13 starts in Hong Kong.

“If he goes up to Class 2 it’ll depend on the programme, sometimes there’s not much to choose so you have to go to Sha Tin. He’s won a few races at Happy Valley and if there is a suitable race for him then I will keep him there,” Lor said. 

This season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series is also set to feature the likes of Keefy, Tuchel, Sweet Encounter, Packing Treadmill, Beautyverse and more. 

Wednesday’s (21 December) nine-race fixture at Happy Valley kicks off at 6.45pm with the second section of the Class 5 Mercury Handicap (1200m).

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