Manfred Man Ka-leung may saddle his first BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) runner in 16 years at Sha Tin this weekend, but the veteran handler’s primary focus will remain elsewhere until race seven has been run and won on Sunday afternoon.
With his handler still basking in the afterglow of the pair’s victory in last month’s Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,200m), Lucky Sweynesse chases a second elite-level success for horse and trainer in the Group One Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m).
It is a contest that presents as Lucky Sweynesse’s biggest test yet, with reigning champion Wellington and the brilliant California Spangle standing in the four-year-old’s way.
Lucky Sweynesse put a length and a half on runner-up Wellington when winning the Centenary Sprint Cup, and Man is confident his charge will again have the four-time Group One winner’s measure. However, the presence of California Spangle elicits far more uncertainty from the reserved handler.
Lucky Sweynesse is far too good in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup under @zpurton for Manfred Man! 💫#SpeedSeries | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/jcYUBGqB1e— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 5, 2023
“The 1,400m for him is no problem. He’s already won twice at the distance – he can handle 1,200m or 1,400m, no problem,” Man said. “I think he’s a chance to beat California Spangle, but this race might all depend on luck.”
Like the recent Stewards’ Cup and Gold Cup blockbusters, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup looms as a tactical affair, and it is the freewheeling California Spangle who will be setting the tempo for the five-horse field.
With Zac Purton opting to stick with Hong Kong Mile champion California Spangle, James McDonald jumps aboard Lucky Sweynesse for the first time and Man is very clear about where he expects his superstar to settle in relation to the leader.
“Very close,” he said with a smile, holding his thumb and index finger barely an inch apart.
“When James comes to Hong Kong on Sunday, I’ll talk to him,” Man added, confirming his instructions will be very simple. “Just follow him,” he said, while pointing at an imaginary California Spangle.
While pleased to have Kiwi star McDonald in the saddle, Man admits he would prefer if Purton had sided with his galloper.
“I think Zac knows the track more than him. He’s been in Hong Kong so many years, and he knows exactly where to have the horse,” Man admitted.
Once three of Hong Kong’s five highest-rated gallopers do battle in the day’s Group One contest, Man will turn his attention to the city’s most prestigious race and the chances of Encountered.
Four-timer! @SilvDSousa is not for catching tonight as Encountered lays out his #4YOSeries credentials with back-to-backs win at the Valley... 💥#HappyWednesday | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/Snly8pjJSA— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 11, 2023
Encountered has taken an unconventional path to the Derby, with two of his three Hong Kong wins coming at Happy Valley. His last-start 12th in the Classic Cup means the four-year-old will start the race as one of the outsiders.
“I can only say he’s a chance. We all know which one is the main target,” Man said, referencing the John Size-trained hot favourite Beauty Eternal.
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“But it’s good for the owners and the stable to have a chance,” Man added ahead of his fourth Derby runner and first since Supreme Gains finished fifth in 2007.
Man also saddles his stable’s second highest-rated horse on Sunday afternoon, with Trillion Win tackling the Class Two Rapper Dragon Handicap (1,200m) under Alexis Badel.