Luke Middlebrook: Hong Kong racing action returns to Sha Tin on Sunday for an action-packed 10-race programme, with two Group 1s and the second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series – the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1800m, the highlights on the day.
The first of the features comes up in Race 3 with the running of the G1 The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and championship-bidding trainer John Size looks a strong chance to claim it with six-year-old Waikuku.
Waikuku races third-up this week and has been honest in each start back from an eight-month break, checking home fourth on each occasion over the mile to Golden Sixty in the G1 Hong Kong Mile and the G1 The Stewards’ Cup most recently.
That last start effort put the writing on the wall, as he returned the fastest third section in the race and second fastest final 400m sectional to Golden Sixty’s fastest, crossing the line 1.50 lengths astern in what was visually a deceiving race given the extremely slow early sectionals. .
Dropping to 1400m, where Waikuku is three-from-four, and entering the race unbeaten third-up, stands out Waikuku as the one to beat.
The next of the features comes up in Race 7 as Golden Sixty looks primed to show his best as he bids for a 13th successive victory in the G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
It is the first time since winning the 2020 Hong Kong Derby since Golden Sixty will race over the 2000m, which, naturally, raises some question marks, but which race-day rider Vincent Ho is quick to dismiss.
“A mile and 2000m, I don’t think there’s a problem,” Ho said. “He can still sprint home over the last 400m in the same time.”
Those final 400m sectionals Ho speaks of are something to behold, as seen last start when Golden Sixty had to produce a herculean effort to win.
Up against a first 800m run in 48.61 seconds – the slowest early speed Golden Sixty has faced this season – a 22.38 second third sectional and 21.80 second final sectional was what it took to score, and with speed like that, he is on song to land a third Group One.
Last but not least is the four-year-olds doing battle in the second leg of the Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), in Race 9.
John Size’s formidable record of four wins in the Hong Kong Classic Cup gives his two runners – Excellent Proposal & Lucky Express – a distinct edge heading into the event.
After a quinella in the Classic Mile with the aforementioned pair, Size is the trainer to beat, and Excellent Proposal is one of four horses proven at the 1800m while Lucky Express is yet to be stretched out over such a distance.
Big respect must be given to the Dany Shum-trained Tourbillon Diamond, however, as he was utterly luckless in the Classic Mile after being badly held up in the straight before charging home late into third once seeing daylight. He is no query at the trip and should be even better at the Derby distance and looks a key player moving forward.
Luke Middlebrook’s Selections:
Race 1: Untold Riches resuming from a break and trialled well recently. Went off as favourite on debut but pulled up lame. Rates a big chance first-up here. Resolute racing consistently of late and expect another big run from barrier 1 and with race fitness on his side. Happy Tango looks a solid good chance based on last start. Going well after a stable change and Moreira picks the ride. Thou Shall Sing drops down in grade and start following. Should improve here. California Gungho second start in this grade after dropping in class and could improve.
Race 2: Panfield caught wide last start and still ran well. Comes into barrier 1 this week and should be hard to beat from there under Moreira. Charity Go racing well with excellent sectional time rankings and should be making his presence felt late here. Tianchi Monster racing consistently of late and expect him to be there in the finish from the low barrier draw. Assimilate last start winner who retains good form and can run well again. Flying Quest go on the win two starts ago and give a chance here. Outsider chance.
Race 3: Waikuku should be highly suited by the drop back in distance and he’s ready to bounce back to his winning ways. Huge effort off a slow early speed last start but with exceptional late sectionals behind Golden Sixty’s. Southern Legend old-timer who is racing in good form and can run well again. Hard to knock the old boy’s rich vein of form. Ka Ying Star should begin fast and will be trying to lead all the way but will be tested late in the piece. Champion’s Way go on the win two starts ago and give a chance here. Buddies will be suited by the rise in distance and can run well. Place claims at value.
Race 4: Fast Pace backing up quickly from a good last start effort on Wednesday night, when narrowly beaten in the final few strides, and can run well again. Exaltation has been placed last three starts, deserves a win soon, but drawn wide and that will make things tough. Ezra has been placed last two starts and deserves a win soon and Moreira taking the ride gives him every hope. Joyful Heart never far away from the winner and could sneak a place in a race like this. Star Of Red ran the third fastest sectional time last start and could surprise at odds.
Race 5: Charity Grace racing consistently of late and expect another big run. Should be able to turn the tables on Master hero, as he comes into a much lower draw and can map handier to the speed. Master Hero more than capable of winning again in this race and it ap- pears a match race between him and Charity Grace. Charge On last start winner who remains in the same grade and races first-up – betting market will be telling. Oscar Glory video replay showed the last run was very good – can improve. Vukan will be suited by the rise in distance and can run well.
Race 6: Lucky Fun rising in class and meets better quality horses but can measure up after winning impressively last time out. All For South had excuses last start and forget the run. More than capable of bouncing back here. Utopia Life placed last start and looks a chance to run well again from the low draw. Mega Heart generally gets back in the running but dashes strongly home and can surprise down in class. California Concord goes well 2nd-up from a break and should be respected, but watch the betting here.
Race 7: Golden Sixty Hong Kong’s best horse who looks the one to beat as he returns to 2000m since winning the 2020 Derby. The small field will make it a tactical affair, but his late sectionals will prove him hard to hold out. Exultant clearly appears to be the biggest danger to the favourite but is yet to win this season. Must respect his staying talent, however. Furore racing well since joining the Cruz yard and he will be suited by the rise in distance. Glorious Dragon changed stables recently and has improved after winning comfortably last start. Columbus County looks a chance if you go on previous consistent form.
Race 8: Will Power track and distance specialist and appears suited here after racing well at Happy Valley last start. Czarson has a better chance on this track and should run well. Ugly Warrior All-Weather-Track specialist who can improve on this surface after going no good in recent turf runs. Barrier trialled well recently and looks a big improver. Red Desert should be highly suited by the drop back in distance. Encore Boy finished powerfully with the fastest sectional time ranking last start.
Race 9: Excellent Proposal highly promising horse and looks the one to beat after winning the Classic Mile in strong fashion. Proven at the 1800m and stamps himself the one they all have to beat. Tourbillon Diamond had no luck last start but keep following and he is the other big winning chance. Lucky Express last start placing was full of merit, nice effort and has solid place claims. Shadow Hero had genuine excuses last start (blood in trachea) and can improve in this race. He will be ridden quieter, according to Hayes, and is nearing peak form. Sky Darci every chance last start and distance a query here. Place preferred.
Race 10: Flagship Glory turned in a very nice debut run and looks to have good ability. Can go close to winning second-up in Hong Kong. Winning For All ran the second fastest sectional time last start and should be a big improver coming into a low barrier draw. Tempest Express was an easy last start winner and must be respected but again draws wide and will need a good steer. Beluga had huge betting support last run and just failed to win. Prime Minister best run to date was last start and appears to be improving.