Focus Asia

Romantic Warrior and California Spangle ready for open age challenge

Romantic Warrior (Acclamation) and California Spangle (Starspangledbanner) fought out an epic duel to the line in last month’s Hong Kong Derby (Listed, 2000m), with the former prevailing by a head over his Classic generation rival as the duo cemented themselves as the standout four-year-olds of this season.

But now the pair face the stern challenge of the step up to open company, one that sees Romantic Warrior take on Hong Kong Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) winner Russian Emperor (Galileo) in the QEII Cup (Gr 1, 2000m), while California Spangle will drop in trip in a bid to hand a third defeat of this season to champion Golden Sixty (Gr 1, 1600m), who can become Hong Kong’s all-time record prize-money earner with a win in Sunday’s Hong Kong Champion Mile (Gr 1, 1600m).

Danny Shum, trainer of Romantic Warrior, was unperturbed by the prospect of clashing with seasoned Group 1 performers, including the Douglas Whyte-trained Russian Emperor.

“He’s trained well, he’s happy and he’s healthy,” Shum told Asia Bloodstock News. “It’s a big challenge because Russian Emperor is a very good horse at 2000 metres, his rating is the highest.”

While California Spangle drops to the mile after being run down by Romantic Warrior in the closing stages of the Derby, Romantic Warrior stays at the 2000-metre trip for Sunday’s assignment.

Having won the Hong Kong Classic Mile (Listed, 1600m), Romantic Warrior was beaten by California Spangle when finishing fourth in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (Listed, 1800m) – his only blemish in seven starts in Hong Kong – before overturning that form in the Derby a month later when delivered to victory by regular jockey Karis Teetan.

By Acclamation (Royal Applause), a renowned sire of high-class sprinters, Romantic Warrior’s ability to stretch out to 2000 metres is aided by his dam’s side, with second dam Folk Opera (Singspiel) a Grade 1 winner in America over a mile and a quarter, and Shum feels the 2000 metres is a distance the International Sale Graduate excels at and can serve up a strong challenge to Russian Emperor, who last start finished second to Golden Sixty in the Chairman’s Trophy (Gr 2, 1600m) earlier this month.

“With his run in the Derby I’m very confident he can compete against these horses at the 2000 metres,” he said.

The step up to open company after the Hong Kong Derby has historically been a well-trodden path for the four-year-olds, however the last horse to back up in the QEII and attempt the prestigious double was Furore (Pierro) in 2019, who finished tenth, and before that Ping Hai Star (Nom Du Jeu) who trailed Pakistan Star (Shamardal) in fourth.

Prior to that, the QEII saw back-to-back winners of the race in 2015 and 2016 who had on their previous start claimed the lucrative Hong Kong Derby, that being Designs On Rome (Holy Roman Emperor) and Werther (Tavistock).

Romantic Warrior is the only graduate of this year’s Hong Kong Derby to test their credentials in the QEII Cup this year.

Meanwhile, Golden Sixty stands in the way of California Spangle achieving a seamless rise to open company at Group 1 level, and the champion racehorse ended a run of two shock defeats with victory in the Chairman’s Trophy (Gr 2, 1600m) last month.

The Vincent Lui-trained six-year-old, who won the Hong Kong Derby in 2020 with a cleansweep of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, was gunning for a record 17th straight win in Hong Kong, but was beaten by Waikuku (Harbour Watch) in the Stewards’ Cup (Gr 1, 1600m) and then when defending his Hong Kong Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) title on his first return to 2000 metres since his victory in the race a year ago, as he finished third behind Russian Emperor and Savvy Nine (Anodin).

However, Lui believes his charge to be in great condition ahead of the clash with California Spangle, who sits as his nearest rival in the betting, having won six of his nine starts in Hong Kong.

“He seems to have improved his condition, he seems to be back – he showed that,” said Lui.

“He (California Spangle) will be a good horse and he’s a front-runner, it all depends on the field and the situation but I feel that my horse is the mature horse and he has had more experience.”

Golden Sixty currently sits with amassed prize-money of a meteoric HK$102,000,000, and has the chance to surpass the record set by Beauty Generation (Road To Rock), who earned HK$106,233,750 up to his retirement in 2020. 

Even finishing second, resulting in a cheque of HK$4.4 million, would see him claim that mantle, but Lui wants to achieve the feat with a win, and a further $11.4 million in the coffers. 

“I am proud, it’s not easy to have a good horse like him,” Lui said.