Triple-handed Tony Cruz loves the speed map for the Group Two Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m) on Sunday, but do not expect his on-pace horses, Ka Ying Star and California Spangle, to take each other on and smash the clock in the early stages.
Last year, Ka Ying Star led the Sha Tin Trophy field for the first three-quarters of the contest, but he travelled at a snail’s pace compared to most black type events, his early sectionals being much slower than the class standard times for the track’s turf mile.
This year, of the full field of horses declared for the Sha Tin Trophy, only Cruz’s three runners – Ka Ying Star (gate one), California Spangle (gate 12) and Beauty Joy (gate 14) – have led more than one race in their Hong Kong careers.
With Beauty Joy first-up and his pattern established as a fast-finishing swooper, the instructions Cruz gives to Luke Ferraris and Zac Purton, the jockeys of Ka Ying Star and California Spangle, respectively, will go a long way to determining the outcome of a race featuring 14 of Hong Kong’s 38 highest-rated horses, including six of the city’s top 13 and resuming Sha Tin Trophy champion, Panfield.
“California Spangle is the fastest, and he’s going to dictate the race. Ka Ying Star would never match his speed. Beauty Joy has never had any speed,” said Cruz, whose race-to-race double at Happy Valley on Wednesday drew him level with David Hayes at the top of the trainers’ championship on nine winners.
“I believe California Spangle is the one to beat, and I also believe Ka Ying Star is better with a leader to chase. Go back through his record and you’ll see he performs better from behind.”
While Ferraris and Purton are familiar with Ka Ying Star and California Spangle, the first time Luke Currie will sit on Beauty Joy’s back will be when he receives a leg up at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Currie cannot wait to ride Beauty Joy on his first venture into Group Two company and hopes to forge an ongoing association with the horse and his trainer.
“He looks like an exciting horse. He’s stepping up, but from what he’s done so far, it’s very nice to be riding him,” said Currie, who has booted home three winners so far in his first full Hong Kong season.
“I haven’t had a ride for Tony Cruz yet. He’s a legend of Hong Kong, so it’s nice to have one for him. Hopefully, we can build a relationship and maybe [I can build one] with the horse too.
“I know Zac’s won on him many times, but Zac at the moment has got a lot of choices in races, so it’d be nice if he can run well and I can stick with him.
“They’re all handy horses, but he just might be the type of horse that’s on the way up. California Spangle is the stand-out, but [Beauty Joy] only has to bring the form he’s shown to be competitive.”