Royal Ascot’s Britannia Stakes has become a go-to race for bloodstock agents and California Whip could be the second winner this week from the 2016 edition when he heads to the dirt for the first time on Wednesday night.
The sixth-placegetter from last year’s Britannia Stakes, Booming Delight, won impressively at his third local start for John Moore on Saturday and now the third-placegetter California Whip (Neil Callan) gets a chance to do the same in a tricky 1,200m extended ratings band Class Three.
California Whip and Booming Delight could follow on the recent trend of well performed imports out of the straight mile race, with Cruz himself striking a good one with Group Two winner Beauty Flame, who won the 2013 Britannia Stakes when known as Roca Tumu.
Other recent imports out of the Britannia Stakes include 2014 winner Born In China (ex Born In Bombay) as well as Packing Llaregyb, Harbour Master, Travel First and Anticipation.
The winner of the 2016 Britannia Stakes, Defrocked, is also in Hong Kong and yet to start after being renamed Limitless and placed under the care of Peter Ho Leung.
Trainer Tony Cruz didn’t enter California Whip (Neil Callan) for Sunday’s Group One Hong Kong Classic Mile despite the four-year-old’s solid form at around 1,600m, although he may not have got into the HK$10 million race anyway off a rating of 82.
Even though California Whip won’t press to be part of the four-year-old series, he comes off two terrific 1,400m runs where he had Classic Mile form around him.
The son of Giant’s Causeway was a first-up second to Seasons Bloom and then finishing right alongside Beauty Generation when third to My Darling on December 27.
Seasons Bloom and, in particular, Beauty Generation will have their supporters on Sunday in the Classic Mile and have both won since facing California Whip.
California Whip is one of seven runners in the 12-horse race that is on dirt for the first time and another, Who Else But You, has run just once, but his trials have been good enough on the surface to suggest he can make his presence felt.
The chestnut colt’s American breeding provides a confidence boost as well with Giant’s Causeway, who himself went within a whisker of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt, a three-time champion sire in North America.
Even though the Coolmoore-owned stallion hasn’t been great in Hong Kong, his best performed progeny, New Glory, was a two-time winner on the surface.
It is a contest with a long tail, but also one containing some speedy rivals at the top end, with Cruz’s prospect forced to carry equal top weight as well as jump from what can be an awkward barrier on the all-weather track’s shortest course, gate one.
Still, the statistics from the inside draw at 1,200m have improved markedly in recent seasons and the barrier doesn’t look any more difficult than what California Whip had to deal with last start.
Jumping from barrier 14, Matthew Chadwick was left posted three-wide without cover for the trip after he pushed forward to try and find a handy position, and California Whip stuck on bravely to finish so close.
Callan, who rode the horse first-up, gets back aboard a horse that has surprisingly good gate speed, considering he never raced below 1,400m when with Richard Hannon.
The drop back in distance shouldn’t be a worry, California Whip is likely to find himself behind a strong speed, which should string the field out and provide Callan ample opportunity to extricate his horse from the rail when he needs to.
All eight races are on the all-weather track, and earlier in the night Caspar Fownes brings Peace Combination (Karis Teetan) back to the inner circuit after the six-year-old nearly stole a win at big odds last start.
Peace Combination had never been tried on the dirt and it was only course specialist Hearts Keeper who got the better of him. This time Peace Combination gets gate two in the second section of the Kowloon Park Handicap, with the splitting of the Class Four creating a weak race containing a number of non-factors.