The Jockey Club couldn’t have scripted it better – the rising star Golden Sixty beating home the old bull Beauty Generation but both camps being able to walk away feeling good about themselves.
It’s the perfect set-up for the features to come.
Hong Kong racing needs a new headline horse – one it can proudly beat its chest about on the global stage – and Sunday’s race confirmed Golden Sixty is it.
There is scepticism about the overall strength of last season’s four-year-old class, but there is no doubt about the quality of the horse who swept the Classic Series and has now won eight straight.
The handicap conditions of the Group Three Celebration Cup (1,400m) were certainly in Golden Sixty’s favour – he was getting 17 pounds off Beauty Generation and 12 off Southern Legend, the two Group One winners in the field – and with that advantage, he really needed to be winning if he was going to measure up in the majors. That’s exactly what happened.
Golden Sixty’s biggest asset is his turn of foot. He can go up another gear when the others are flat to the boards.
He ran his last 800m in 44.49 seconds, his last 400m in 22.19 – both comfortably the quickest in the race – and the latter the best of the day, even eclipsing the effort of Class Two sprinter Lucky Express (22.31).
That’s impressive, but watch the replay – jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu never touches him with the whip. It was a soft win and there is plenty more to come.
But he will need to be better – things are going to get progressively more difficult for him as he progresses towards the Hong Kong International Races.
When Golden Sixty steps out next in the Group Two Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m), there will only be 10 pounds difference between him and Beauty Generation.
After that, he will only have a five-pound advantage on the veteran in November’s Group Jockey Club Mile before meeting on level terms in December’s Hong Kong Mile.
Of course, that is assuming Golden Sixty goes in that direction – if connections opt to step up to 2,000m for the Jockey Club Cup, the same theory applies, just substitute in Exultant.
In any case, if Lui and Ho’s biggest challenge is determining which Group One to target, it’s the definition of a first-world problem.
There is no doubt about where Beauty Generation is heading – he’s following the same path he has for the previous three seasons – and he should make his presence felt again.
The two-time Horse of the Year didn’t have a lot of space early in the straight, but he still picked up under the big weight and finished off strongly – running his last 400m in 22.45 seconds, the third quickest of the day.
It was an important result for David Hayes – not that you could ever question his training acumen given what he has achieved – but everyone wanted to see the champ come back and be competitive for his new stable.
A lot of people were watching closely – most notably former trainer John Moore, his wife Fifi and son George, who followed Beauty Generation’s every move, first in the parade ring and then from the grandstand.
The eight-year-old holds the record for most prize money ever won in Hong Kong, he’s got eight Group Ones to his credit and he means a lot to many.
Hayes was able to breathe a sigh of relief afterwards, confident all is well with his approach and safe in the knowledge the gelding will be even better when races switch from handicaps to set weights contests.
Beauty Generation was as heavy as he’s ever been (1,172 pounds) and will take plenty of improvement from the hit-out.
Of the others, Southern Legend showed he’s in for another good preparation with a strong fourth while Champion’s Way ran well and Dances With Dragon didn’t have a lot of luck in the straight but has returned in good nick.
But one horse dominated the discussion after the races – Golden Sixty.
Ho thinks the five-year-old was operating at “70 or 75 per cent fitness”, while Lui declared him “the best horse I have trained”.
Pre-race, there was a little, niggling concern about Golden Sixty making the step up to open-age Group racing after a big four-year-old campaign.
Any doubts were quashed in emphatic fashion – he is Hong Kong’s new pin-up horse.