Tony Cruz chases his third straight Group Three Celebration Cup (1,400m) victory at Sha Tin on Sunday, and in the combination of Hong Kong’s hottest jockey and the race’s highest-rated horse, the veteran trainer believes he might have the winning formula again.
While Beauty Joy, who finished second to Golden Sixty in April’s Group One Champions Mile, must lug 135 pounds, he has the airborne Hugh Bowman in the saddle as compensation.
Bowman enters Sunday’s Sha Tin fixture on the back of consecutive trebles and knows the quirky Beauty Joy well.
“Bowman is hot, so he’s got a good chance,” Cruz said of Beauty Joy’s hopes of adding a third Hong Kong Group Three victory to his resume and saluting for the first time since June last year.
Should things not work out for Beauty Joy and Bowman, Cruz has the luxury of saddling half of the six-horse field, and he boasts a couple of able reinforcements in Circuit Stellar and The Golden Scenery.
Cruz has kept things simple – as he often does – in the past two years, with first rank outsider Buddies and then prohibitive favourite California Spangle leading throughout to bank most of the HK$4.2 million Celebration Cup pots.
While it is unlikely to be Beauty Joy taking up the running for Cruz this time, the legendary handler suggested Circuit Stellar will be right on the pace in a race where Healthy Happy looks the most obvious leader.
“There’s a faster horse than him, Healthy Happy, but Circuit Stellar will be up there in front as well. We might try and lead. We’ll see,” Cruz said.
Circuit Stellar will be ridden by Zac Purton, who teamed up with Cruz to win the race last year and has snared three of the past five editions thanks to back-to-back victories aboard Beauty Generation.
The Golden Scenery is the only Celebration Cup runner with a start under his belt already this campaign, with the six-year-old snaring a Class Two on opening day under Brenton Avdulla.
However, it will not be Avdulla with the reins this weekend because The Golden Scenery’s 115-pound impost means the recently arrived Andrea Atzeni takes the ride.
“He’s in good form, but we’ve had to change the jockey because Avdulla can’t do the weight,” Cruz said.
While The Golden Scenery has the runs on the board already in 2023-24, Cruz is notorious for having his horses up and going early in a season, and he confirmed all of his runners are ready to perform.
“All three are very healthy, and they’ve all been prepared for this race – they’re all very fit horses,” he said.
Making up the other half of the field for the first Group contest of the season are the veteran Healthy Happy – runner-up in this contest last year and winner of the 2021 Classic Cup – exciting Caspar Fownes-trained middle-distance galloper Straight Arron and Manfred Man Ka-leung’s Encountered, who finished last season with a flurry of wins and is now rated 105.