After the high-profile withdrawals of Classique Legend and Hot King Prawn from Monday’s Group Two Sprint Cup (1,200m), the weight of expectation falls to Richard Gibson’s boom youngster Wellington.
The rising star, who has six wins and a second from eight starts, really put himself on the map with a stunning victory in the Class One Lantau Island Handicap last month, easily accounting for his rivals with just 113 pounds on his back.
Wellington has to go to another level again as he meets a similar field again – this time at set weights – but his life has been made easier with the removal of Classique Legend and Hot King Prawn, the horses who started favourite and second favourite in December’s Group One Hong Kong Sprint.
Impressive, Wellington.— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 13, 2021
Richard Gibson's gifted sprinter dashes clear for @AlexisBadel, laying out strong credentials for next month's G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize! 🔥 #FWDChampionsDay #HKracing pic.twitter.com/nOqw9Mst02
The former bled after trackwork on Wednesday morning and is going to return to Australia while John Size has decided to give the latter a break after an arduous campaign, throwing the Sprint Cup wide open.
Wellington is the most obvious beneficiary of the upheaval and has a terrific opportunity to stamp himself as the number one seed in the final lead-up race before the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize on April 25, but Gibson has plenty of sympathy for those involved with Classique Legend and Hot King Prawn.
“You feel for all the connections of horses that don’t make a race because we’ve been in that position ourselves,” Gibson said.
Wellington is the early favourite for the HK$4.5 million contest, opening up at $2.35 in international fixed-odds markets, just ahead of Sky Field ($3.60) and Beauty Applause ($7), with punters expecting him to continue his progression and become one of the city’s best sprinters.
“He’s the exciting youngster in town, he was very impressive last time,” Gibson said. “He went past some good horses very easily off a very light weight and now he’s got to step up to the plate against the big boys at equal weights.
“The preparation has been very straightforward, it’s a nice stepping stone from the previous race. He [galloped on the turf] last Monday and went through his motions very nicely so we’ve got the horse in good nick for the race.”
The biggest challenge for Wellington, Gibson and jockey Alexis Badel is the barrier draw.
The son of All Too Hard, who is undefeated in five runs over the course and distance, will jump from gate 12, likely forcing the Frenchman to settle further back in the field than is ideal.
“He does have to be at his very best [to win]. There is not a trainer in Hong Kong who likes to be drawn 12 over 1,200m – it’s a disadvantage. He’s got to be extra special to overcome the difficulties of the draw,” Gibson said. “The problem with the wide draw is that your options are more limited.”
Wellington scorches Sha Tin as Group One test beckons: ‘he’s one of the fastest horses I’ve trained’
Jumping right next to Wellington is Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s Voyage Warrior, who won this race last year.
The five-year-old hasn’t returned to the winner’s stall since that day but his trainer remains hopeful he can produce his best again.
“I still think there is something left in the tank – I don’t really think we’ve seen his best,” Yiu said. “I have a lot of faith in him – he’s doing well.”