Hong Kong News

Romantic Warrior clinches epic Hong Kong Gold Cup

Romantic Warrior (Acclamation) enhanced his status as one of the world’s premier middle-distance gallopers with a gripping victory in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) over Voyage Bubble (Deep Field) at Sha Tin yesterday. The son of Acclamation (Royal Applause) will now be given the chance to create more history by chasing a record third Queen Elizabeth II Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) win in April.

The first Hong Kong International Sale graduate to win the Hong Kong Derby (Listed, 2000m), Romantic Warrior becomes only the third horse since the turn of the century after Vengeance Of Rain (Zabeel) and Designs On Rome (Holy Roman Emperor) to snare all three of Hong Kong’s top-level 2000-metre contests – the Hong Kong Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2000m), QEII Cup and Hong Kong Cup (Gr 1, 2000m).

Danny Shum’s champion will now bid for a fourth major this season by pressing for an unprecedented third QEII Cup win, having already snared the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) at Moonee Valley in October and a second Hong Kong Cup in December, before adding a sixth Group 1 success today under James McDonald.

Having partnered Romantic Warrior to a fifth Group 1 win, McDonald was awestruck by the gelding’s effort to fend off fellow Hong Kong Derby victor Voyage Bubble by a neck, after the pair forged clear at the 300-metre mark in an electrifying tussle.

Having drawn outside the 11 runners, McDonald crossed to the rails on Romantic Warrior after only 400 metres and then was stalked by Zac Purton on Voyage Bubble until the field approached the turn. While Purton fanned into the clear as Sword Point (American Pharoah) and Money Catcher (Ferlax) faded before taking the lead, McDonald angled between runners to challenge.

After a fierce stoush in the straight, Romantic Warrior gradually edged out the Stewards’ Cup (Gr 1, 1600m) winner in 2 minutes 00.31 seconds, with Nimble Nimbus (Sacred Falls) a brave third, three lengths away under Andrea Atzeni.

[Romantic Warrior] is unreal, he just keeps surprising me – an unbelievable horse. He’s the undisputed champion. He deserves all the accolades he gets. I can’t stress how much of a privilege it is to ride him,” McDonald said, revealing his absolute faith in Romantic Warrior was critical to tactical decision-making.

“He’s the horse that does it all. He makes you look good all the time. His tenacity (and) will to win is phenomenal. I suppose instincts kicked in and (I) went with the flow. When you ride such good horses, you can do what you want to do and even if I made a little mistake during the race, he is probably good enough to overcome it and that was probably my mindset.

“Even though it worked out really, really well, I’ve got that much faith in the horse that you can do things on him that you would normally do.”

McDonald was unflustered when Purton drove Voyage Bubble to the lead.

“I was mindful obviously that [Voyage Bubble] was having his second time at the 2000 metres and he [Purton] committed early – so it was a really good ride,” McDonald said. “My thinking was that I was going to be stronger late, so I just let [Romantic Warrior] build through his gears under his own steam and he got there really easily.”

Revealing he was worried pre-race, Shum was jubilant after Romantic Warrior posted his 13th win from 18 starts and boosted his prize-money to more than HK$127 million (approx. AU$26.69 million) after being purchased by owner Peter Lau at the 2022 Hong Kong International Sale for HK$4.8 million.

“I had a big concern [about the wide draw] because I didn’t think [rival jockeys] would let him in and push him three or four-deep,” Shum said. “I talked to James this morning. I said ‘Give him his chance and if you jump good, you can push him and put him inside.’ James is very smart, he knows what to do.”

Shum indicated a tilt at the Yasuda Kinen (Gr 1, 1600m) in Japan in June remains an option for Romantic Warrior.

Crowning a fabulous afternoon with a treble, McDonald also struck aboard Ricky Yiu’s Little Fairy (Scissor Kick) in the Class 5 Citigold Private Client Handicap (1600m) before closing the card successfully for John Size on Young Champion (Zoustar) in the Class 3 Citi Investment Services Handicap (1400m).

Formerly trained by Johnny Murtagh in Ireland where he was known as Sharlouk, the Zoustar (Northern Meteor) gelding claimed a PP Bonus of HK$1.5 million as he continued a potential path to the Hong Kong Derby.

Super Sunny Sing (Nicconi), winner of last season’s Hong Kong Classic Cup (Listed, 1800m), rebounded to form with a searing finish in the Class 2 Citi Private Bank Handicap (1600m) for Chris So. Given a patient ride by in-form Atzeni, Super Sunny Sing notched his seventh win from 17 starts.

“In the small field today, he relaxed in behind them and he’s got a good turn of foot like he had earlier in the season – I was very confident, to be fair,” Atzeni said.

Continuing an excellent season, Atzeni drove David Hall’s Champion Instinct (Holler) to victory in the Class 4 Citigold Handicap (1200m) to seal a double before Francis Lui’s Call Me Glorious (No Nay Never) debuted impressively with victory in the Class 4 Citi Ultima Handicap (1200m).

The three-year-old raced on the pace before spearing clear for Lyle Hewitson before Lui completed a double when Universal Horizon (Shalaa) prevailed in a blanket finish under Jerry Chau to land the Class 3 Citi Insurance Services Handicap (1600m).

Loyal Bo Bo (Swiss Ace) scored emphatically for Frankie Lor and Derek Leung in the Class 4 Citi Wealth Advisory Services Handicap (1400m) after Kimberley (Hat Trick), a dual Group 1 winner in Brazil before being transferred to former Hong Kong trainer Tony Millard, broke through his first win in Hong Kong for Jamie Richards with success in the Class 4 Citi Global Wealth Handicap (2000m) under Purton.

Purton sealed a brace atop Shum-trained Gorgeous Win (Press Statement) in the Class 3 Citi Mortgage Services Handicap (1200m).

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