Next month's Group 1 Stewards' Cup (1600m) is set to be a blockbuster renewal with a trio of Hong Kong's equine heavyweights – Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and California Spangle – expected to lock horns in the HK$12 million feature at Sha Tin on Sunday, January 29, 2023.
Fresh following a devastating Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) triumph this month, Romantic Warrior will be set for a Hong Kong Triple Crown campaign which kicks off with the Stewards' Cup before the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) in February and Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) in May.
Unlike many other Triple Crowns from around the world, Hong Kong's is not age restricted and has only been achieved once in history – by the great River Verdon back in 1994.
If successful in all three legs, 2021 Hong Kong International Sale graduate Romantic Warrior will pick up a HK$10 million bonus, however, standing in his way is a rematch with California Spangle and a first meeting with dual Hong Kong Horse of the Year (2020/21 & 2021/22) Golden Sixty.
Trainer Danny Shum believes the Stewards' Cup will be the biggest hurdle Romantic Warrior will face in his Triple Crown bid: “It's a good race! It will be the focus of the world, the Triple Crown is the goal this season. I think he can handle the 2400 metres, just the first run over 1600 metres is the difficult one against Golden Sixty and California Spangle.”
Romantic Warrior is the joint-highest rated horse in Hong Kong (130) with Golden Sixty, while California Spangle holds outright second spot on 129. Romantic Warrior boasts nine wins from 10 starts and a whopping HK$62.19 million in earnings.
“It will be a good race but it won't be easy, those are good milers, they're champions – my horse is good but 2000 metres is better, I wouldn't be afraid of them but 1600 metres will be tough,” Shum said.
Karis Teetan will ride Romantic Warrior in the Stewards' Cup having partnered the Acclamation gelding to victory in the 2022 Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), 2022 Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and 2022 Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).
“He's pulled up well and Karis (Teetan) has come to the stable each day to ride him. He's happy with the horse,” Shum said.
Golden Sixty will chase a second win in the Stewards' Cup. He prevailed in 2021 before his 16-win unbeaten streak was halted by Waikuku in the 2022 edition of the race.
“Golden Sixty is ok – no problems, he is healthy and he now goes to the Stewards' Cup. It will be a good race to watch. He still wants to fight,” trainer Francis Lui said.
Now a seven-year-old, Golden Sixty won first-up in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile (1600m) over California Spangle before his younger adversary reversed the result in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m) on Sunday, December 11 at the HK$110 million Hong Kong International Races.
Golden Sixty has banked HK$122.85 million across his record-breaking career and Lui is remaining open to the option of travelling the 130-rater abroad in 2023.
“We will see, I still haven't decided. Of course, Japan, it's closer and easier to get to but we will see, it is too early to tell. Dubai is another option but in March, he still has to race here,” Lui said.
A winner of nine races from 14 starts, California Spangle has enjoyed a sparkling rise and his trademark front-running style of racing will once again be looking to light up Sha Tin in next month's Stewards' Cup.