If Golden Sixty is to win this year’s Hong Kong Mile, it will be the first time since Able Friend’s victory in 2014 that a Hong Kong-based galloper has won the Group One without first running – and running well – in the Group Three Celebration Cup (1,400m).
The Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained superstar will skip this year’s edition of the Celebration Cup, to be held at Sha Tin on Sunday, robbing the season’s first Group contest of a good chunk of its star power.
It also poses the question: is there anything in the race that can beat Golden Sixty on international day and continue the mini-run of local horses having to perform in the Celebration Cup to snare the Hong Kong Mile?
Golden Sixty himself did the double last year and Beauty Generation won both the Celebration Cup and the Mile in 2017 and 2018, while Beauty Only won the 2016 Mile after finishing runner-up to Joyful Trinity in that year’s Celebration Cup.
The only other victors since Able Friend’s success in 2014 were Japanese raiders Admire Mars in 2019 and Maurice in 2015, with the runners up in those two years both Hong Kong horses – Waikuku and Giant Treasure – coming off Celebration Cup placings.
Sky Darci and Southern Legend look the most capable among Sunday’s field of pushing Golden Sixty and trainer Caspar Fownes did declare recently that his target this season is to “try and knock the champ off”.
After winning the Hong Kong Derby, Sky Darci took out the Group Three Lion Rock Trophy (1,600m) in May and the Mile looks the best option for him in December.
The five-year-old looks perfectly placed on Sunday with just 120 pounds, gate three and Joao Moreira on his back, but Fownes is more interested in the long term.
“[Sky Darci and Southern Legend] are aimed at the top races in December and that’s when they’ll be peaking. In the interim period, if we can snag a race that will be a bonus,” Fownes said.
Southern Legend went a head from toppling Golden Sixty last season and the 2020 Champions Mile winner is the only galloper proven at Group One level in this year’s Celebration Cup.
However with 133 pounds on his back, the nine-year-old warhorse’s role on Sunday looks as much to get the weights down for stablemate Sky Darci as to snag some minor prize money for connections.
Since this race was first run at 1,400m in 2000 when known as the National Day Cup, a horse carrying 133 pounds has won just four times and they were all stars – Fairy King Prawn (2001), Ambitious Dragon (2011) and Beauty Generation (2018 and 2019).
Others in Sunday’s nine-horse field likely bound for the Hong Kong Mile are Mighty Giant – who ran seventh in the race last year and took out April’s Group Two Chairman’s Trophy (1,600m) – and possibly Tourbillon Diamond.
Imported after running third in the Group One Australian Derby (2,400m), Tourbillon Diamond is yet to race at the top level in Hong Kong but his best Hong Kong performances have come at 1,400m and 1,600m, while he was a fast-finishing sixth over six furlongs three weeks ago.
“He’ll concentrate on this trip and the mile. If it’s too long, I don’t think he can handle it. We’ll take it race by race with him,” said trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing.
It would take a brave man to bet Golden Sixty is not at the very least the first Hong Kong horse home in the Mile on international day, but recent history would suggest a strong performance on Sunday should hold Sky Darci and Co in good stead come December.