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A compact field of six are entered to do battle in Sunday’s (September 25) HKD$3.9 million Group 3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin with California Spangle taking his place as the horse to catch in the season’s first Group race.
Cheerful Days and jockey Alexis Badel join Will Power, Duke Wai, Healthy Happy and Mighty Giant as the cavalcade looking to upstage California Spangle who was last seen finishing second to Golden Sixty in the 2022 Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m).
The winner of six races last term, Cheerful Days enjoyed a meteoric rise through season 2021/22 and Badel – with tempered expectations – is confident of a solid first-up effort from the Smart Missile gelding.
“I think the horse has something to offer, I think after a break he should be able to run a decent race. Obviously it’s his first run back which will pose a question mark but this is also the case for most of the field,” Badel said. “I expect him to run a good race because of his rating and also because he improved so much last year.”
The six-year-old rose 43 rating points last term and grabbed a career-high when finishing second to Beauty Joy in the 2022 Group 3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m).
“He was very impressive last year. He tries very hard and he’s very honest, so let’s see if he’s fit enough because then he’s going to try hard again,” Badel said.
Cheerful Days will compete as the lowest-rated runner in the race and sits seven points shy of California Spangle, who ranks second behind Will Power (rated 114) on 111.
“I haven’t been able to trial him (Cheerful Days) yet but I saw his effort at Conghua and I felt it looked good enough. He was so consistent last year, so it’s difficult for me not to see him running a good race again,” Badel said.
Still a four-year-old, California Spangle’s rise looks far from over. His ability was on show last season with four wins – three over 1200m – while he also successfully stepped up to nail 2022 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) glory. Following that performance he produced another incredible effort in the 2022 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), duelling it out with Romantic Warrior before finishing second in what was arguably the most memorable renewal of the race for quite some time.
A dominant force over 1200m in Hong Kong with untapped ability, California Spangle tackles 1400m for the first time this weekend but has sounded an ominous warning to rivals following a pair of strong barrier trials at Conghua in preparation for his return, extending nicely in his most recent effort to cross the line first by close to six lengths over 1000m on turf in 59.23s.