Romantic Warrior threw down the gauntlet to the foreign raiders who want to take the Group One Longines Hong Kong Cup’s HK$34 million riches offshore with his record-breaking reappearance in the Group Two BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin.
First up having not raced since his two-length win in April’s Group One QE II Cup, Romantic Warrior shaved 0.07 seconds off Sha Tin’s 2,000m class record, even though his trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing said his star middle-distance horse was “80 per cent fit only” for his long-awaited return.
Romantic Warrior, on whom visiting jockey James McDonald stood in for recuperating rider Karis Teetan, beat his stablemate, Tourbillon Diamond, by one and a quarter lengths on Sunday to register his eighth victory in nine outings and issue a challenge to his international rivals.
Japan-based gallopers have won each of the past three editions of the Hong Kong Cup – Win Bright (2019), Normcore (2020) and Loves Only You (2021) – and will target the race in numbers again, plus Jockey Club officials expect Irish handler Aidan O’Brien to have a presence as well.
The only galloper to claim a Hong Kong Derby in his first preparation, Romantic Warrior is seeking to become the first locally trained horse to win a Hong Kong Cup second up since Motivation in 1993 and that was when it run was over 1,800m and not a Group One.
Shum had planned to kick off Romantic Warrior’s five-year-old campaign over 1,600m before his stable star suffered a training setback in August, but he was delighted with how Plan B worked out.
“It was a really tough to decision whether to run him at 1,600m or 2,000m,” Shum said.
“At the end of last season, I planned to run him at 1,600m for his first race, but he twisted his right foreleg and he got a splint, so he had to be off for three weeks until he’d totally recovered.
“It’s very hard to fight with Golden Sixty and California Spangle, so I talked to the owner about changing the plan and running at 2,000m.”
Shum was full of praise for not only McDonald but also Zac Purton, plus he spared a thought for Teetan, who was aboard Romantic Warrior for his Classic Mile, Derby and QE II Cup triumphs.
“I have to say thank you to Zac. Zac trialled him two times. The first time he said he was keen and only so-so. The second time he told me he was much better. Personally, I think he’s 80 per cent fit only,” Shum said.
“I’m quite sorry for Karis. When you’re sick like that, it can take months and there was a big question mark, so I talked to the owner and said ‘we have to find a good jockey for such a good horse’.
“I asked Zac to ride, but he said he needed to ride Beauty Joy, so in my mind I said either Ryan Moore or James McDonald. I called James first, and he was more than happy to come.”
Teetan was front of McDonald’s mind as he celebrated the second leg of his Sha Tin double after also saluting for Shum aboard Victor The Winner earlier on the card.
“First of all, I’d just like to send my well wishes to Karis. Obviously, he’d [normally] be on this horse, and it’s a pleasure to be warming the seat for him for when he gets back – and I’m sure he’ll be back very shortly,” McDonald said.
“Phenomenal start to his five-year-old season, and he can only improve off that. I thought he did enough in the end – and probably had enough in the end – but he’s a great horse, and he knows where that winning post is.”