Declaring Lucky Sweynesse the best horse he has trained, Manfred Man is likely to give his stable flagbearer the opportunity to chase Group 1 glory in the HK$12 million Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) next month after the gelding's authoritative Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) triumph at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Weighing potential race options, including the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on January 29 at Sha Tin, Man indicated his preference was to wait a week for the Centenary Sprint Cup on 5 February.
“With this rating (119), he has many options but we will go for the February sprint,” Man said. “He just keeps improving and how good (is he)? I can't give you the answer at the moment because he still has the chance to improve.”
Contesting a 1400m race for only the second time in his 12-start career, Lucky Sweynesse cruised to his eighth victory after a calculating ride by Zac Purton, who sat outside Healthy Happy before taking control of the race with terminal acceleration in the straight, making light of equal topweight of 135lb.
2023 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Replay – Lucky Sweynesse
“It was pretty painless – it always looked that way pre-race,” Purton said. “He was sluggish from the gates and took about 50 metres to get into his stride but once he did, he was just in a lovely spot – the rhythm of the race suited him,” Purton said. “I just looked after him and with the weight, it was a nice effort.”
Clocking 21.98s for the final 400m, Lucky Sweynesse erased the memories of his chequered passage when sixth behind Wellington in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) at Sha Tin on December 11.
“His last run, he didn't get the chance to race,” Man said after Lucky Sweynesse downed Healthy Happy (123lb) by one and a quarter lengths. The Golden Scenery (116lb) was a further length back in third place.
Vincent Ho started the New Year in stunning fashion, slotting a four-timer to move to 34 wins for the season after prevailing on Jiangxi Stamina, Chilli Baba, Metro Warrior and Super Sunny Sing to consolidate second place in the jockeys' championship behind Purton (72 wins).
“I did everything I could on most of them,” Ho said after closing the meeting successfully aboard Super Sunny Sing in the Class 3 Flame Tree Handicap (1400m) to give trainer Chris So a double. “I just do my best on every horse and I'm happy. Of course, the main targets are the Group 1s with Golden Sixty and to try and get more good rides.”
Ho drove Jiangxi Stamina through a narrow gap to win the second section of the Class 5 Yew Handicap (1400m) for So before sealing a double aboard Ricky Yiu-trained Chilli Baba, who overcame a sluggish start to land the Class 4 Palm Handicap (1000m).
“He was a bit slower out than we expected him to be, so I think 1200 or 1400m in the future would be suitable,” Ho said. “Lucky, he was big enough and brave enough to take those gaps near the finish.
“Once the gap opened, he started to look around a little bit because he started to look around so there's still room for improvement. Nice performance.”
David Hayes-trained Metro Warrior landed the Class 3 Chinese Banyan Handicap (1000m) to give Ho the third leg of his quartet before Super Sunny Sing upstaged a string of Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders with a blistering turn of foot.
Tony Cruz edged closer to the outright lead in the trainers' championship with 25 wins when Ima Single Man (118lb) notched his fourth Hong Kong win with a courageous performance in the Class 2 Cherry Handicap (1200m). Ridden patiently by Angus Chung, the Australian import benefited from Chung's 10-pound claim.
Frankie Lor still leads the championship from Cruz because he has had more second placings so far this season.
Like Ho, Antoine Hamelin started the New Year in a blaze with a double. The Frenchman first combined with Pierre Ng's Happy Fat Cat in defying the opposition to claim the first section of the Class 4 Poplar Handicap (1200m) before teaming with Jimmy Ting to win the Class 4 Willow Handicap (1600m) atop Coming Patch.
“It's a great satisfaction to start the year with a double,” Hamelin said. “I'm very happy – a winner from the front, another from the back. It's very important. I need the support from the trainer, like everyone, so I'm very happy and I hope I can keep going like this.”
Ting also savoured a brace after Purton partnered Hong Kong International Sale graduate Divine Era to a four and a half length victory in the second section the Class 5 Yew Handicap (1400m).
Taking his stable tally of wins to eight, Ting said: “Some horses have had no luck. Some horses have had bad draws. The ratings of horses in my stable are a bit high. The ratings are coming down a little bit, so this year should be better.”
David Hall's Atullibigeal claimed the Class 3 Cotton Tree Handicap (1200m), benefiting from the addition of a hood and a patient Hugh Bowman ride after Danny Shum-trained Supreme Lucky scooted clear after covering ground to snare the second section of the Class 4 Poplar Handicap (1200m).
“He's still immature, still green and Matthew (Poon) reported that when he hit the front, he wanted to slow down,” said Shum, who has 19 wins for the campaign. “He's a nice horse, but he's still learning.”