The biggest crowd to converge on Sha Tin in more than three years may well have witnessed a passing of the torch on Sunday as Romantic Warrior laid claim to being the best horse in the city after a stunning win in the Group One Hong Kong Cup (2,000m).
Just 40 minutes after two-time Horse of the Year Golden Sixty was beaten by California Spangle in the Group One Hong Kong Mile, Danny Shum Chap-shing’s four-year-old destroyed a field packed full of overseas talent.
Rider James McDonald, in the saddle because of Romantic Warrior’s regular rider Karis Teetan’s recent stint on the sidelines with a thyroid condition, was afforded the luxury of being able to stand up in the irons and salute the crowd as his mount came home nearly five lengths clear of his nearest rival.
McDonald, who had earlier in the week been crowned the Longines World’s Best Jockey at gala dinner in Hong Kong, was always confident in the run and was full of praise for his mount, who has now won nine of his 10 races.
“That was a superstar performance,” McDonald said. “He put himself in a great spot, fast from the gates, switched off and Danny Shum had him in tip-top order the whole way through.
“Because I began so well, I was controlling the race. [Panthalassa] did cross me quickly but he is so adaptable this horse. He’s very, very good and he’s just got a great attribute of switching off, and a great turn of foot. His best attribute is being able to take a position.”
Shum was pleased to have secured McDonald for the ride and the race went according to their plans.
“I got a good jockey on board and I 100 per cent trust him,” Shum said. “We talked yesterday evening and we planned it exactly like this.
“On the first start [this season], he was only 80 per cent fit and after the race James texted me and I said he would keep improving. He has a very good temperament and was always focused and always improving.”
A projected pace battle between Japanese raiders Jack d’Or and Panthalassa failed to materialise and Romantic Warrior put himself in perfect position turning for home, with the race over in a matter of strides when McDonald asked him for his effort.
“It just showed how much improvement there was from his first to second start, but I didn’t think he would do that to that sort of field,” McDonald said.
“It shows the quality of the horse, his turn of foot is incredible. He has got everything that a good horse has and he’s got it in spades.
“This is the one I wanted. I got offered the ride about six weeks ago and this was the race I wanted to put a ring around and win before I went home. Luckily, I was on a really good horse.”
One of the more interested onlookers was former top jockey Michael Kinane, who sourced Romantic Warrior for the Jockey Club’s Hong Kong International Sale and was back in town for the first time in a couple of years.
“We couldn’t have dreamed that he’d be here as a short-priced favourite for one of the biggest races of the season and he looks fantastic,” Kinane said.
“He just seems to love racing and he has a great mindset, He has great gate speed and then relaxes and he knows where that winning post is. He’s tough and genuine. There is no place like this in the world and it’s great to be back here.”