California Whip is yet to live up to the expectations that followed his impressive arrival in Hong Kong 18 months ago but the five-year-old’s victory in the Class One Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1,400m) suggests he might be heading in the right direction.
With Neil Callan aboard, the gelding dug deep in the straight to reel in leader Calculation and trainer Tony Cruz has his sights set on the Group Three Sha Tin Vase on May 27, potentially followed by the Group Three Premier Cup on June 24.
“I won on him on the dirt over 1,200m and he broke the track record in Class Three carrying top weight,” Callan said about California Whip’s first victory in Hong Kong in January last year.
“In the four-year-old series [last season] he had actually been mixing form quite well – he ran well in the Classic Cup and I just thought with a season under his belt he would come out and improve quite a bit. I thought he’d at least be a Group horse.
“In his early races this season he’d been racing quite well but was bumping into horses like Fifty Fifty and the four-year-olds coming up and I thought maybe he was just limited.
“It’s not where I thought he’d be. I rode him last time and I just had to chase him too hard on the dirt over 1,200m and it just wasn’t his go.”
With California Whip now likely to get his chance at Group level, Callan is confident there is room for further improvement.
“There is always a strong pace in the Hong Kong Macau Trophy and I knew going up to the 1,400m it was going to give me the chance to ride a race on him. It is what he’s been needing and he did that,” Callan said.
“Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence now and he can maybe try and sneak a Group race in the near future.”
It might have been the Hong Kong Macau Trophy but it was a dismal showing from only the two Taipa raiders, with Krystrump and Kelowna Star filling the last two places.
It capped a tough week for the visitors after Mister Kaopu and Victory Megastar were pulled from the field on Friday after testing positive to a prohibited substance.
The race itself opened up nicely for California Whip after pre-race favourite Calculation was caught three wide early on, forcing Karis Teetan to loop the field and take him to the lead.
“Everything worked out perfectly for him today,” Cruz said, adding that he was always sceptical about the chances of Romantic Touch sweeping the interport series.
“I said he should be in the first three, but I expected The Golden Age to do something but for Romantic Touch, he had no chance in this kind of ground. Only in Macau do you get a soft track.”
Callan notched a double on the day, winning the Class Five Guia Hill Handicap (2,200m) with a gem of a ride on Pearl Furu.
With the leading group bunching up in front of him, Callan seized his moment, booting Pearl Furu to the front at the 1,000m and holding off Holy Unicorn to win for Paul O’Sullivan.
“The plan was to either lead or sit outside the leader and he jumped well but he had no speed and I couldn’t push him around the field in a Class Five because if I used him up like that he wasn’t going to finish,” Callan said.
“So I left him alone and the pace kept coming back in my lap and when I got to the 1,200m I just thought ‘let him roll’.
“I think it was a race-winning move because he is quite a one-paced horse anyway. It was the right time to let him go and I just kept the momentum going and he just kept the gallop going.”