Francis Lui is hoping for a belated birthday celebration on Sunday (24 January) after watching Hong Kong star Golden Sixty breeze through his final piece of trackwork ahead of a much-anticipated competitive return in the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin.
Freshened after claiming the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin on 13 December, Golden Sixty breezed impressively over 1200m on the dirt yesterday (Friday, 22 January) in 1m 22.3s under regular rider Vincent Ho.
Chasing a 15th victory from 16 starts, and his 12th in succession, Golden Sixty will start a short-priced favourite to give Lui a delayed 62nd birthday present if he performs to market expectations and accounts for seven rivals this weekend.
The quietly-spoken Lui turned 62 yesterday but, typically, is more occupied with the well-being of Hong Kong’s highest-rated horse (131) than anything else, even personal milestones.
“He was a bit keen when he started back (after being freshened up) but after that he had a grass gallop (on 19 January) – he was fine and this morning he was good again,” Lui said.
“I asked Vincent (Ho) to give him an easy gallop and he just wanted to go.
“Now he’s more and more relaxed in races.”
Wearing a hood, Golden Sixty clocked 25.8s over the closing 400m as Ho allowed the champion just a sliver of rein as the pair extended in the home straight.
“He’s good, it’s quite exciting to have a horse like him. It’s the dream of a trainer, jockey, owner,” Lui said, adding the probability of racing meant Golden Sixty would eventually sustain a second career defeat.
He is hoping it is not anytime soon.
Providing all goes to plan with Golden Sixty on Sunday, Lui will target the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on Sunday 21 February at Sha Tin with the option of then having a crack at the third and final leg of Hong Kong’s Triple Crown Series – the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 23 May.
Sunday’s Group 1 Stewards’ Cup over the mile is the first leg of Hong Kong’s Triple Crown, while the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup is the middle leg.
Zac Purton will be aboard Ka Ying Star as one of Golden Sixty’s opposition on Sunday and will also ride Shadow Hero (Hong Kong Classic Mile) and Voyage Warrior (Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup) in the day’s other features.
“They can all run a nice race – they’re all going to need things go their way,” he said.
“They’re competitive rides but there’s no stand-outs.”
The reigning champion jockey also takes the mount on unraced Winner Method in the Class 4 D B Pin Handicap (1000m) for trainer Danny Shum.
“He was going really nicely early. He put a couple of good trials together and we were ready to go to the races and, unfortunately, he got a fever and Danny had to back off him and give him some time and he’s done that,” Purton said.
“We took him to the Valley last week and gave him a trial and I thought it was pretty plain actually.
“It wasn’t the same feeling he gave me before he got the fever.
“But that trial might have brought him back up and let’s just hope he can run a good race.
“Off that last trial, I’m not that confident he can produce his best but back up the straight where he’s more familiar, it might be what he’s looking forward.’
Purton is optimistic the addition of winkers to Shadow Hero in the Hong Kong Classic Mile will spark a sharper response from the Australian import.
“We’re going to go to the races without the blinkers and let’s see if he can jump out and put himself in the race and make himself competitive because he’s not competitive when he walks out of the gates.
“He’s a nice horse, very laidback, he’s got a good attitude. He feels like this distance and further should suit him more. There’s certainly something to like there about him but he needs to switch on and switch on quickly.”