An emerging wave of talent will square off with Hong Kong's elite at this year's FWD Champions Day on Sunday, 24 April at Sha Tin, all vying for a share of the HKD$65 million up for grabs across three stellar Group 1 contests.
Headlining the entries is Golden Sixty who chases back-to-back HKD$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) wins, Russian Emperor, who is out to bolster his burgeoning record by capturing the HKD$25 million Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) and Wellington, seeking to defend his title in the HKD$20 million Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m).
However, there is no shortage of fresh blood rising to the challenge with this season's BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) hero Romantic Warrior lining up in the FWD QEII Cup, while California Spangle – second to Romantic Warrior in the BMW Hong Kong Derby – takes his shot at the Horse of the Year – Golden Sixty – in the FWD Champions Mile, bidding to give Tony Cruz a third win in the race after Bullish Luck (2005 & 2006).
As well, Master Eight – winner of his first five starts – joins his fellow four-year-olds with an assault on the Chairman's Sprint Prize, aiming to lift his name alongside the likes of Silent Witness (2004), Sacred Kingdom (2008), Ivictory (2018) and Wellington (2021) as four-year-old winners of the final leg of Hong Kong's Speed Series since the turn of the century.
The entries feature 34 horses in total, including nine individual Group 1 winners.
This Sunday's (3 April) HKD$4.75 million Group 2 Chairman's Trophy (1600m) and HKD$4.75 million Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) features many of the entered runners for FWD Champions Day including Golden Sixty, Russian Emperor, Wellington, Hot King Prawn and Master Eight, looking to springboard into the end of month showcase with victory at Sha Tin.
FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup
Russian Emperor, Hong Kong's leading stayer this season and winner of February's Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m), meets Romantic Warrior for a tantalising clash in the HKD$25 million Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m), with both looking to etch their name on an honour roll dating back to 1975.
Romantic Warrior became the first Hong Kong International Sale graduate to win the BMW Hong Kong Derby and now he will look to join Pakistan Star (2018) as the second graduate to reign in the FWD QEII Cup but first to do so as a four-year-old, aiming to equal Vengeance Of Rain (2005), Ambitious Dragon (2011), Designs On Rome (2014) and Werther (2016) as victors of Hong Kong Derby-QEII Cup double in the same season.
Joining the duo is Panfield – Hong Kong's Champion Stayer of last term – in a bid for a second top-level crown in town, while Zebrowski, a two-time Group 3 winner this campaign, has emerged as a legitimate threat, ready to step up to open age Group 1 level in Hong Kong after finishing second as a three-year-old in the 2020 Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m); third out of that race at Randwick in Australia – Tourbillon Diamond – joins him.
Savvy Nine slots in after finishing second to Russian Emperor in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup as does Butterfield, Columbus County, Reliable Team and Ka Ying Star – who also holds an option for the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m).
FWD Champions Mile
Golden Sixty was arrogant when winning the 2021 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) against an internationally acclaimed field and the exceptional son of Medaglia d'Oro will take his chance at consecutive HKD$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) triumphs next month, looking to banish memories of consecutive defeats to Waikuku and Russian Emperor, respectively.
California Spangle has emerged as one of Hong Kong's rising stars, versatile and incredibly gifted with victories at 1000m, 1200m and 1800m, while last start he finished a brave second to Romantic Warrior in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m). The Irish-bred steps out of his age bracket and into Group 1 level for the first time against none other than Hong Kong's leading star and winner of 19 races – including five at the top-level – Golden Sixty. He also holds an option for the Chairman's Sprint Prize.
Waikuku halted Golden Sixty's win-streak at 16 with his second successive win in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup (1600m) in January and John Size's crack miler will look to nail his fourth Group 1 win in the FWD Champions Mile, while More Than This – second to Golden Sixty last year in that pulsating finish – returns for unfinished business after again placing second to Golden Sixty in the 2021 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
Cheerful Days has been one of this season's success stories with six wins from 10 starts and Francis Lui's rapid riser will once again be asked to step up, taking aim at FWD Champions Day riches after his tilt on Sunday's (3 April) HKD$4.75 million Group 2 Chairman's Trophy (1600m) at Sha Tin.
Joining Waikuku for trainer John Size are Excellent Proposal and Champion's Way, while Healthy Happy, Mighty Giant and Kings Shield also hold entries.
Chairman's Sprint Prize
Last year's winner Wellington improved his growing record with victory in February's Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and he tops the billing with a bid to become the third horse since Mr Vitality (1995 & 1996) to successfully defend their titles in the HKD$20 million Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m), following Silent Witness (2004 & 2005) and Lucky Nine (2013 & 2014).
Master Eight has gone from strength-to-strength for trainer Frankie Lor and the rising four-year-old will have his second chance at Group 1 level, looking to add to the five wins he's already amassed from seven starts which includes this year's Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m).
Group 1 winners Hot King Prawn – who has been one of the circuit's finest short-course gallopers in recent times – also features in a bid for a second top-level crown, as does Sky Field, winner of the 2021 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and Stronger, who secured the 2022 Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) under Vincent Ho for Douglas Whyte.
Lucky Patch – Francis Lui's five-time winner – steadily emerged as a Group 1 winner in waiting after winning the Group 2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m) and Group 2 BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) consecutively this season, and now, he gets his chance to nail a maiden top-level win as does Courier Wonder, Computer Patch, Lucky Express and Super Wealthy.
Majestic Star might only be a three-time winner from nine starts but Danny Shum is keen to test the four-year-old at Group 1 level, entering the I Am Invincible gelding for the race following consecutive wins – the latest at Class 2 level. Kurpany – also without Group 1 experience – rounds out the entries along with Sight Success and Winning Dreamer.