Long regarded as one of the fastest horses Richard Gibson has handled, Wellington took a crucial step towards elite sprint contests with emphatic success in the Class 1 Lantau Island Handicap (1200m), downing a string of renowned rivals – including the world’s second-ranked sprinter Hot King Prawn – at Sha Tin on Saturday (13 March).
While Gibson repeatedly pointed to the favourable handicap conditions of the contest where Hot King Prawn (133lb), a last-start Group 1 winner, had to concede 20 pounds to Wellington, the sheer quality of the winning performance was measured in the margin and overall and sectional times.
Given time to settle by Frenchman Alexis Badel, the son of Australian sire All Too Hard scorched over the final 400m in 21.62s to surge past leader Computer Patch to salute by one and a quarter lengths with another emerging talent Sky Field a further neck back in third.
Wellington’s overall time of 1m 07.80s equalled Sacred Kingdom’s 2007 record for Class 1 1200m contests at Sha Tin.
Hot King Prawn, who is ranked the second-highest sprinter in the current LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings behind Nature Strip, finished fifth under his hefty weight as Wellington vindicated Gibson’s faith.
“Until you run against the very best there is always a doubt but if we were going to try our luck against the very best it was today because we had a big advantage in the handicap,” the Englishman said.
“We always thought it would be better today taking a seat and finishing strongly. He went past some very good horses very easily today, which is always a good sign – if we were going to beat Hot King Prawn it was today.
“He’s certainly one of the fastest horses I’ve trained – the only way to describe him is fast.”
Gibson indicated the four-year-old could target the Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin on 5 April before possibly elevating to Group 1 company in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize over the same course and distance on 25 April.
Improving his overall record to six wins and a second from eight starts, Wellington provided Badel with an uncomplicated ride – and a double after his earlier success on Roman Turbo in the Class 2 Cheung Chau Handicap (1400m) for Danny Shum.
“I wasn’t sure about the pace but what I know from that horse is that he likes to chase other horses. When he hits the front too soon, he can think the job is done,” Badel said of Wellington.
“He’s got an explosive turn of foot – I was just looking for a comfortable race without too much fight and the horse has shown his brilliant turn of foot once again.
“He’s obviously very talented and the light weight was a huge advantage in that handicap race.”
Tony Cruz was grateful for absent rivals after Ka Ying Star profited from a significant class drop to triumph for the first time since May 2020 with victory in the Class 1 Ap Lei Chau Handicap (1600m).
Dropping from Group grade for the first time in 11 starts, the six-year-old was given a wonderfully judged ride by Zac Purton to beat More Than This and Champion’s Way.
Placed two starts ago behind Hong Kong idol Golden Sixty and beaten only two lengths by Waikuku at Group 1 level at his most recent outing, the British import proved his superiority in lesser company.
“When Beauty Generation was around, he was always a bridesmaid and he’s always running against the champions like Golden Sixty and getting beaten, so I’m very happy to win one back,” Cruz said.
Purton said the race panned out perfectly for the gelding, who improved his Hong Kong record to four wins and 12 placings from 27 attempts.
“Good effort, he’s an honest horse – he always runs well,” Purton said. “He just got a really nice pace today and that was the key.
“He had a little bit of cover and the leader rolled along nicely enough just to allow him to relax.
“When he relaxes, he performs well. When the pace is muddling, he’s his own worst enemy. He got it all to suit today and he did a good job.”
One of four jockeys to post a double, Purton completed his brace on Hongkong Great for Shum in the Class 3 Ma Wan Handicap (dirt, 1650m).
Blake Shinn and Caspar Fownes combined with debutante Killer Bee, a son of Savabeel, for an effortless victory in the Class 4 Peng Chau Handicap (1000m).
“The horse did a great job, he trialled nice but he did a few things wrong in the trials,” Shinn said.
“He was the consummate professional out there today. First time at the races, he just did it nicely and won well.”
Shinn posted his 13th victory for the season and his second for the week with Fownes.
“From the time I got here, Caspar’s tried to find me a decent horse and when he put me on this guy at the trials, he said ‘He’s nice a horse’ and everything has come together and we’ve had a great result today.”
Fownes revealed he had chosen Melbourne Cup-winning Shinn because of the Australian’s patient nature.
“I picked Blake to ride the horse because he (Killer Bee) can be a little bit aggressive. He wants to be a big, strong boy and Blake’s been very good, spending a lot of time with the horse and getting him to relax a bit and learn a little bit more,” Fownes said.
“It’s always nice to win first-up, it’s very tough in Hong Kong – hopefully he has a good future.
“Blake’s a great jockey and like anything in Hong Kong, you need a little bit of support and if you get the right horses, you can show your talent. When you’re riding horses that are 50-1, 60-1, it’s very hard to show any ability.”
Fownes was also in the winners’ circle with Double Take, who claimed the Class 4 Soko Islands Handicap (dirt, 1800m) under Karis Teetan before book-ending the program with Serious Liaison, who narrowly won the Class 3 Lamma Island Handicap (1400m) for Vincent Ho.
The treble allowed Fownes to draw level with John Size atop the trainers’ championship with 51 wins.
Teetan completed a double on Valiant Dream for Francis Lui in the Class 3 Green Island Handicap (1000m).
Moreira had another positive day, winning aboard Seize The Spirit in the Class 5 Tsing Yi Handicap (1600m) for Me Tsui and Super Winner in the Class 4 Po Toi Handicap (1400m) for Dennis Yip. The Brazilian leads Purton (76) by 22 victories.