Horse Racing
Healthy Happy aims to regain Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup crown

By Declan Schuster
30/12/2023 11:48

Healthy Happy is a two-time Group 3 winner in Hong Kong.
Healthy Happy is a two-time Group 3 winner in Hong Kong.

Healthy Happy (117lb) will chase redemption in the 2024 HK$4.2 million G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) for jockey Alexis Badel and trainer Frankie Lor.

Victorious in 2022 and second to Lucky Sweynesse in 2023, the front-running Healthy Happy returns for his third tilt at plundering New Year’s Day’s lucrative feature race at Sha Tin on Monday, 1 January.

“The 1400 (metres) is good for him. This time he’ll carry a light weight and I hope he can run a good race,” Lor said. “The Hong Kong Mile (G1, 1600m) was quite strong, so I skipped that race to run him over 1400 metres.”

The seven-year-old faces difficult opposition, headlined by the Group 1-winning California Spangle (135lb) as well as Beauty Joy (123lb), Red Lion (115lb), Fantastic Treasure (115lb), Rewarding Together (115lb), Atullibigeal (115lb) and Taj Dragon (115lb).

“California Spangle usually leads, so I don’t mind if we sit second,” Lor said. “He’s (Healthy Happy) had nearly one and a half months off, which should be good, so he’s fresh – we gave him a trial and brought him back to Hong Kong (from Conghua).”

Set to break from barrier eight, Healthy Happy has raced 27 times in Hong Kong for HK$20.80 million in earnings. He boasts five wins in the city, while his most recent scalp came first-up this season in the HK$4.2 million G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m).

Healthy Happy wins the 2023 Celebration Cup at Sha Tin.

Also trained by Lor and afforded a featherweight impost in Monday’s Group 3, the 94-rating Rewarding Together rises to 1400m for the first time across his 29-start career in Hong Kong.

“It’s looked like the distance has been a bit short across his last few runs, so I’m trying 1400 metres to see any difference in him,” Lor said.

Matthew Chadwick will ride Rewarding Together, who is a six-time winner in Hong Kong, from barrier five.

Taj Dragon is no stranger to Sha Tin’s 1400m chute. The Mehmas gelding has a quartet of wins over the course and distance for trainer Pierre Ng, including last start when defeating two Chinese Club Challenge Cup rivals – Fantastic Treasure and Atullibigeal.

“He pulled up well after his last race. To be honest, we didn’t expect California Spangle to be in this – we’re rated 40 points below him. We’re just looking for a good run,” Ng said.

Taj Dragon has banked HK$8.08 million across 12 starts in Hong Kong. He pairs with jockey Andrea Atzeni in barrier seven on Monday.

“He loves the distance and there will be good pace for him. I’m hoping he finishes strongly through the line with the light weight to hopefully get some prize money,” Ng said.

Fantastic Treasure represents David Hayes and is third-up in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup. The six-year-old was fifth at Group 2 level two starts ago before his close-up sixth in early December.  

“I thought his last run was really good. I think he’s close to peak fitness, so he could easily run a good race,” Hayes said.

Lyle Hewitson partners Fantastic Treasure from barrier two.

Tony Cruz saddles California Spangle and Beauty Joy in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup.

California Spangle weakened to 13th at Group 1 level last start behind Golden Sixty at December’s HK$118 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.

“Hugh Bowman’s riding California Spangle and I’m very happy with his condition,” Cruz said.

A regular on-pacer, California Spangle has been assigned barrier one, while Beauty Joy has drawn gate four with James McDonald engaged.

Meanwhile, Lor is planning to enter three runners in the 2024 HK$4.2 million G3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley on 10 January. The handler readies 2023 winner Money Catcher, Sword Point and Happy Together for the city circuit’s most-prized race.

“Money Catcher looks ok. He’s not a superstar in the morning,” Lor said. “The short straight at Happy Valley is good for Happy Together – he keeps improving and I want to see if he can step up to another level or not.”

Monday’s (1 January) 10-race fixture at Sha Tin kicks off at 1pm with the first section of the Class 4 Flame Tree Handicap (1200m).