Golden Sixty is still the king of Sha Tin, with perhaps the best horse Hong Kong has ever seen winning a Group One Stewards’ Cup (1,600m) touted as the city’s best race in decades.

The two-time Horse of the Year was simply stunning in a contest that lived up to its enormous build-up, wowing the crowd with his trademark turn of foot to pull clear of Romantic Warrior and his Hong Kong Mile conqueror California Spangle after a titanic tussle that saw all three superstars get their chance.

“I’m just very happy for Golden Sixty. The team did great work after the last race and to come back to his optimum fitness was great,” said jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu after Golden Sixty landed his second Stewards’ Cup and seventh Group One.

Statistically Golden Sixty has no Hong Kong equal, with his 23rd victory taking his prize money north of HK$129 million – both local records – and Ho and trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai hinted that perhaps 2023 could finally be the year the superstar miler takes his talents abroad.

“We have to see how he pulls up and we’ll discuss with the team. We have entered the Dubai Turf (1,800m), so that’s another thought,” said Ho when quizzed if Golden Sixty would target the Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) next start.

“I think it’s a good race for him and it can be a ‘prep’ race for him if we go to Japan because it’s left-handed and he can get used to the heat and all that.”

Pre-race the talk was all about tactics and $3.9 chance California Spangle took the lead as expected, with the slow pace set by Zac Purton seeing Romantic Warrior ($2) travel outside the leader with Golden Sixty ($2.55) in the box seat.

After a first 800m over a second outside standard, Purton picked up the pace aboard California Spangle but he was unable to put any real distance between his mount and the main dangers, with Ho sitting quietly aboard Golden Sixty.

A victorious Vincent Ho and Golden Sixty.

“He was very comfortable [in the run] and he has not pulled [recently], so when he jumped very well, he still dropped the bit and made it even easier for me to handle him and decide what position I wanted to get,” Ho said.

“If I want him to be faster, he will be and if I drop my reins, he will relax. So, when Zac picked the pace up at the half mile, he still followed through very nicely without any effort.”

Karis Teetan asked Romantic Warrior to go turning for home but the reigning Hong Kong Cup champion couldn’t get past California Spangle, leaving enough room for Golden Sixty to explode between runners from what could have become a precarious position and salute by a length on the back of a final 400m of 22.41 seconds.

“I had a little bit of confidence before the race,” said Lui. “Everybody could see Zac’s horse would lead and Teetan’s horse would follow, and they both had a chance to win the race, so I’m not worried if anyone can block my horse.”

California Spangle (left), Golden Sixty and Romantic Warrior do battle in the Stewards’ Cup.

Romantic Warrior stuck to the task and did eventually sneak past California Spangle to grab second, with Danny Shum Chap-shing’s galloper certain to have lost no admirers after dropping back from his optimum 2,000m to a mile.

While the five-year-old has fallen at the first Triple Crown hurdle, Shum confirmed he will push onto next month’s Gold Cup and ruled out the prospect of travelling his superstar this season.

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“It was a big effort to come from 2,000m down to 1,600m, he tried his best and we were only beaten by the best horse,” Shum said.

Tony Cruz was succinct in his post-race assessment, admitting there were “no excuses” for California Spangle.