Poised to close a globe-trotting season with another Group 1 tilt, Russian Emperor will attempt to join a select band of multiple winners of the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) when Hong Kong’s reigning Champion Stayer tackles the $12 million feature at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Douglas Whyte’s flagbearer will face eight rivals on Sunday, including Romantic Warrior, 2021 race winner Panfield and Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup (Handicap) victor Straight Arron, as he bids for a third Group 1 on Hong Kong soil after this season annexing the Group 1 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2400m) in February.
If successful this weekend, Russian Emperor would join River Verdon, Indigenous, Oriental Express, Viva Pataca, Blazing Speed and Exultant as winner of two or more Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup since 1990.
To be partnered by Hugh Bowman, Russian Emperor will contest his ninth race this campaign after finishing sixth to Straight Arron in the Group 3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup on May 7 following a fifth and an eighth at Group 1 level in Dubai in March.
“He (Russian Emperor) has held his form. I thought at his last run, he ran with a lot of purpose and Hugh was happy with him. He got his momentum going and couldn’t go anywhere turning for home, so he was a victim of circumstances,” Whyte said.
“So, when Hugh jumped off and said he would like to stick with the horse that’s a good indication that the horse ran well. He’s held his form well, he hasn’t done anything extraordinary since his last run. I’m happy with the way he’s come out of that race and he’s worked well since.”
Ever the realist, and a winner of three Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cups as a jockey, Whyte is mindful of the threat posed by Danny Shum’s Romantic Warrior.
“It’s going to be very hard to beat Romantic Warrior. He’s the new kid on the block and the only thing that would enhance our chances is having a bit of rain about but it doesn’t look that promising when you look at the weekend’s weather.
“But there’s a bit of rain about at the moment and let’s hope that a bit of juice stays in the ground that will benefit us immensely,” Whyte said.
With Russian Emperor to start from gate five, Whyte is proud of what Russian Emperor has achieved since last season’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup victory.
“Russian Emperor has had a phenomenal season. For a horse to go away and win in a foreign jurisdiction and win on a tight track like the one in Qatar, he’s done me proud – he’s done Hong Kong proud,” Whyte said.
“He then went to Dubai and ran enormous on Super Saturday and unfortunately there were a few excuses on Dubai World Cup night. He’s had a long campaign and he’s travelled around the world, so he’s in as good as order as we can expect heading into this race.”
Romantic Warrior has drawn barrier eight, Frankie Lor’s consistent Money Catcher has the outside stall of nine, Straight Arron jumps from six with Caspar Fownes stablemates Columbus County (two) and Senor Toba (three) to start from inside gates. Natural Storm departs from barrier one, Panfield has gate four and Five G Patch jumps from barrier seven.