Danny Shum Chap-shing celebrated his first BMW Hong Kong Derby success as a trainer when Romantic Warrior got the best of California Spangle after a titanic duel up the Sha Tin straight.
Shum, who came close to causing a mighty upset in the race two years ago when Playa Del Puente finished a neck behind superstar Golden Sixty at odds of $290, was thrilled to win his first Derby and keen to pay tribute to his horse.
“He deserved to win the Derby,” said Shum, who also finished runner-up in the Derby with Thumbs Up in 2009. “He’s very honest, Karis [Teetan] did a great job and I’m very happy.
“Actually, the second horse California Spangle also ran very well. The pace is strong and he was still fighting on the line.”
But for a disappointing run in the Classic Cup when he was trapped wide without cover for much of the way, Romantic Warrior may well have completed a clean sweep in the four-year-old series this season and Shum was always confident his horse was the ideal type for the Derby.
“After the Classic Mile, I thought he could run really well in the Derby,” Shum said. “In the Classic Cup he was still four wide and he was the one finishing. It was a good run and he learned a big lesson.
“I felt confident for the Derby because he is an easy ride and he didn’t fight during the race. A strong pace is easy, a slow pace he can go a little bit forward and the distance of 2,000m, especially against the four-year-olds, he can handle no problem.”
Romantic Warrior is the first horse to win the Derby after being sold at the Hong Kong International Sale and is from the first batch of horses sourced for the club by former top jockey Michael Kinane.
Bought by owner Peter Lau Pak-fai for HK$4.8 million, Shum felt he was the pick of the draft.
“I’d like to thank the HKJC for bringing such a good horse to the [sale] and we watched the horses in the stable and picked the right one,” he said.
“Thanks also to the owner Peter Lau, he really supports the sale and he says to me ‘buy me a good horse, don’t buy me a wrong horse’. He doesn’t mind buying an expensive horse if it’s a good one.
“[Romantic Warrior] has good conformation and he has a good action. I watched him every day. I went to the stables every day at the ISG sale and I saw every horse but he was the only one who caught my eye. I love him. I talked to Peter and told him that this was the only one and to buy it.”
Shum is not one to rest on his laurels and already has an eye on Romantic Warrior’s next target.
“The plan would be the Queen Elizabeth Cup,” Shum said. “I heard no overseas horses are coming but this is the right time to take on experienced horses. He can still improve.”
Runner-up California Spangle was set a difficult task from stall 10 but held every chance under another good Zac Purton ride. He looked to have again stolen the race from the front before Romantic Warrior’s stamina reserves kicked in close to home.
California Spangle’s trainer Tony Cruz felt that competition and pressure from some of his rivals contributed to the defeat, with Vincent Ho Chak-yiu aboard Rocket Spade joining Purton in the lead about 800m from home in a race that was run over a second inside standard for the first 1,200m.
“Zac said everybody came too early to take him on, but if he’d had his own way he would have been hard to beat,” Cruz said.