He might be a four-time Group One winner and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup’s defending champion, but Wellington is poised to start the clear outsider of the three heavy hitters in Hong Kong’s sole elite-level 1,400m race.
Rated a $7.50 chance by overseas fixed-odds bookmakers, Wellington tackles fellow Group One winners California Spangle ($1.72) and Lucky Sweynesse ($2.37), and trainer Richard Gibson is comfortable being the underdog.
“To be honest, I don’t mind at all. All I do is look at his very, very impressive race record and the fact he’s the defending champ. I think you’ve got to be a very good horse to beat Wellington,” Gibson said of his galloper, who tuned up for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup with a neck second to California Spangle in a recent 1,000m Sha Tin turf trial.
“I’m very happy with him. His prep has been very smooth. I thought it was a good trial last week and he’s the defending champion, so I’m looking forward to the race.”
The Sprint goes to Hong Kong! Wellington is far too good for Ryan Moore & Richard Gibson. 🔥🔥@LONGINES #HKIR | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/MCfvk62ri3— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 11, 2022
The news earlier this week that Ryan Moore will replace Wellington’s regular jockey Alexis Badel for Sunday’s race caught a few off guard, but Gibson was matter of fact when asked about the switch.
Moore, who won the Group One Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m) aboard Wellington while Badel was sidelined with injury, is jetting in to partner John Size’s Tuchel in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m).
“It just seemed silly to have the world’s best jockey in the weighing room watching the race. He’s won a Group One with him and it’s exciting to have Ryan aboard,” Gibson said.
Lucky Sweynesse will also be without his regular jockey but not for a lack of trying by connections, with Zac Purton opting to stick with California Spangle.
Golden Sixty is beaten! California Spangle & @zpurton aren't for catching in the 2022 G1 Hong Kong Mile for trainer Tony Cruz! 🔥@LONGINES #HKIR | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/KE3GPdXg3I— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 11, 2022
Purton won the Group One Hong Kong Mile aboard California Spangle in December before taking out the Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,200m) on Lucky Sweynesse last month.
“It was really hard [to choose between California Spangle and Lucky Sweynesse]. Obviously, Lucky Sweynesse is on the way up and it’s hard to know where his ceiling is at the moment. He might have a little improvement there,” Purton said.
“He’s unbeaten at the distance, albeit at a lesser grade, and he’s airborne. He’s going really well, so it’s very hard to choose between the two. I just felt the Golden Sixty form was probably the best form in Hong Kong and I know my bloke is going to be very strong at 1,400m, coming back from the mile.”
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“I love the horse. He’s been my favourite horse the past 18 months and I always enjoy riding him. It’s a privilege to be on his back and hopefully we can get another win on the board with him.”
Purton confirmed California Spangle will assume his customary lead role in the five-horse contest that also features 2021 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup champion Waikuku and Courier Wonder, with Lucky Sweynesse expected to shadow his every move under James McDonald while Wellington lets it all unfold in front of him.