They came, they saw and they were well and truly conquered in the Sha Tin sunshine on Sunday as Romantic Warrior confirmed himself among the world’s elite with a commanding second consecutive success in the Gr1 FWD QEII Cup.
Pandemic restrictions meant Danny Shum’s gelding beat a purely domestic field when landing the HK$25 million contest in 2022 and the five-year-old faced a sterner test against two Gr1 winners from Japan and globetrotting British raider Dubai Honour, fresh from capturing two of Australia’s elite 2000m contests.
However, the market spoke volumes about the confidence behind him and the 1.6 favourite delivered in spades, charging into the lead with 400m to run and eased down close to home as Kiwi rider James McDonald stood up in the stirrups to salute an adoring crowd.
“How good are the Hong Kong horses, they’re flying today,” said a beaming McDonald, who is now unbeaten in three rides on Romantic Warrior after partnering him to similarly emphatic victories in the Gr2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m) and Gr1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) last November and December.
“He’s a world-class horse and put in a performance just like he did in December. There wasn’t one part of the race where I thought he wasn’t right – he was always going to explode for me – and the race panned out beautifully. He’s a world-class horse. It took an absolute weapon (Golden Sixty) to run him down last time but he’s a great 2000m horse and I really enjoy riding him.”
A slow pace set by Money Catcher led to a final time of 2m01.92s but acceleration is what separates the great from the good and Romantic Warrior’s closing 400m of 22.53s was faster than Golden Sixty’s final 400m in the G1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) and only 0.27 slower than Lucky Sweynesse’s final 400m in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
That final burst was all too much for Prognosis, who stayed on well to finish two lengths adrift of the winner in second, while Dubai Honour and Money Catcher were just behind in third and fourth.
Winning trainer Danny Shum wore the broadest smile at Sha Tin on a memorable day for Hong Kong’s homegrown handlers and is now working on a bold plan to emulate his former boss Ivan Allan, who travelled to Japan in 2000 to land the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) with the great Fairy King Prawn.
“I feel big relief and I must say a big thank you to my stable team, the mafoos, the work rider Gary Lau as they work very hard and never give up,” he said. “We plan to run now in the Champions & Chater Cup (2400m, 28 May) and then we will have a good look about Japan for next season.
The Tenno Sho (Autumn) is the race that Shum has in mind. “I’d like to go to Japan,” he added. “I have a history because my ex-boss Ivan won the Yasuda Kinen and I hope I will follow him successfully and win a Group 1 there.”
Dubai Honour’s trainer William Haggas, though frustrated that his five-year-old couldn’t add to his two Gr1 wins in Australia, was justifiably proud. “It was messy from our point of view but Romantic Warrior was so good,” he said. “But the last few months have been fantastic, more than I could have dreamed of, and it really whets your appetite for more of these trips.”
Zac Purton echoed Haggas’s comments about the steady pace for Prognosis, reporting that “they went too slow but he got to the line really well and it was an excellent effort,” while Money Catcher’s rider Silvestre de Sousa added that “he ran his usual good race but the first three were too good.”
Romantic Warrior’s latest victory – following on from a thrilling success in last year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and his runaway defeat of global Gr1 performers in the Hong Kong Cup – took his career record to ten wins from 13 starts with career earnings of HK$81.725 million.
More importantly, this latest success gained him membership to one of Hong Kong racing’s most exclusive clubs.
Japanese raider Eishin Preston (2002 & 2003) and Hong Kong legend Viva Pataca (2007 & 2010) were the only two horses to win two QEII Cups since the race earned G1 status in 2001 before today’s race.
Michael Kinane has vivid memories of riding Viva Pataca to the first of his two wins and the Irish riding legend was thrilled to see a new member of the ‘QEII 2’ Club as he sourced Romantic Warrior for the Hong Kong Jockey Club before seeing him sold to owner Peter Lau Pak Fai for HK$4.8 million at the 2021 Hong Kong International Sale.
“Viva Pataca had a great turn of foot and you had to wait with him but this lad is more straightforward and there’s no doubt he’s among the best in the world now,” he said.
“That’s a bold call to hear he might go to Japan. You’re going into the Lion’s Den, especially if Equinox is there again, but sure why wouldn’t you want to travel with a horse like this.”
- Hong Kong racing continues on Wednesday 3 May at Happy Valley.