Horse Racing
Romantic Warrior clinches epic Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup

By Leo Schlink
25/02/2024 19:33

James McDonald prevails on Romantic Warrior.
James McDonald prevails on Romantic Warrior.

Enhancing status as one of the world’s premier middle-distance gallopers with gripping victory in the HK$13 million G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) after a stirring battle with Voyage Bubble at Sha Tin on Sunday (25 February), Romantic Warrior will be given the chance to create more history by chasing a record third G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) win in April.

The first Hong Kong International Sale graduate to win the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), Romantic Warrior today became only the third horse since the turn of the century after Vengeance Of Rain and Designs on Rome to snare all three of Hong Kong’s top-level 2000m contests – the Hong Kong Gold Cup, QEII Cup and Hong Kong Cup.

Danny Shum’s champion will now bid for a fourth major this season by pressing for an unprecedented third FWD QEII Cup win, having already snared the G1 W. S. Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley in October and a second LONGINES Hong Kong Cup in December before adding a sixth G1 success today under James McDonald.

Having partnered Romantic Warrior to a fifth Group 1 win, McDonald was awe-struck by the gelding’s effort to fend off fellow Hong Kong Derby victor Voyage Bubble by a neck after the pair forged clear at the 300m in an electrifying tussle.

Having drawn the outside of 11 runners, McDonald crossed to the rails on Romantic Warrior after only 400m and then was stalked by Purton on Voyage Bubble until the field approached the turn. While Purton fanned into the clear as Sword Point and Money Catcher faded before taking the lead, McDonald angled between runners to challenge.

After a fierce stoush in the straight, Romantic Warrior gradually edged out the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) winner in 2m 00.31s, with Nimble Nimbus a brave third, three lengths away under Andrea Atzeni.

Romantic Warrior denies Voyage Bubble in a classic battle.

“He (Romantic Warrior) is unreal, he just keeps surprising me – an unbelievable horse. He’s the undisputed champion. He deserves all the accolades he gets. I can’t stress how much of a privilege it is to ride him,” McDonald said, revealing his absolute faith in Romantic Warrior was critical to tactical decision-making.

“He’s the horse that does it all. He makes you look good all the time. His tenacity (and) will to win is phenomenal. I suppose instincts kicked in and (I) went with the flow. When you ride such good horses, you can do what you want to do and even if I made a little mistake during the race, he is probably good enough to overcome it and that was probably my mindset.

“Even though it worked out really, really well, I’ve got that much faith in the horse that you can do things on him that you would normally do.”

McDonald was unflustered when Purton drove Voyage Bubble to the lead.

“I was mindful obviously that (Voyage Bubble) was having his second time at the 2000m and he (Purton) committed early – so it was a really good ride,” McDonald said. “My thinking was that I was going to be stronger late, so I just let him (Romantic Warrior) build through his gears under his own steam and he got there really easily.”

Danny Shum was elated post-race.
Danny Shum was elated post-race.

Revealing he was worried pre-race, Shum was jubilant after Romantic Warrior posted his 13th win from 18 starts and boosted his prize money to more than HK$127 million after being purchased by owner Peter Lau at the 2022 Hong Kong International Sale for HK$4.8 million.

“I had a big concern (about the wide draw) because I didn’t think they (rival jockeys) would let him in and push him three or four-deep,” Shum said. “I talked to James this morning. I said ‘Give him his chance and if you jump good, you can push him and put him inside.’ James is very smart, he knows what to do.”

Shum indicated a tilt at the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) in Japan in June remains an option for Romantic Warrior.

Crowning a fabulous afternoon with a treble, McDonald also struck aboard Ricky Yiu’s Little Fairy in the Class 5 Citigold Private Client Handicap (1600m) before closing the card successfully for John Size on Young Champion in the Class 3 Citi Investment Services Handicap (1400m).

Formerly trained by John Murtagh in Ireland where he was known as Sharlouk, the Zoustar gelding claimed a PP Bonus of HK$1.5 million as he continued a potential path to the BMW Hong Kong Derby.

Super Sunny Sing powers home.
Super Sunny Sing powers home.

Super Sunny Sing, winner of last season’s Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), rebounded to form with a searing finish in the Class 2 Citi Private Bank Handicap (1600m) for Chris So. Given a patient ride by in-form Atzeni, Super Sunny Sing notched his seventh win from 17 starts.

“In the small field today, he relaxed in behind them and he’s got a good turn of foot like he had earlier in the season – I was very confident, to be fair,” Atzeni said.

Continuing an excellent season, Atzeni drove David Hall’s Champion Instinct to victory in the Class 4 Citigold Handicap (1200m) to seal a double before Francis Lui’s Call Me Glorious debuted impressively with victory in the Class 4 Citi Ultima Handicap (1200m).

By No Nay Never, the three-year-old raced on the pace before spearing clear for Lyle Hewitson before Lui completed a double when Universal Horizon prevailed in a blanket finish under Jerry Chau to land the Class 3 Citi Insurance Services Handicap (1600m).

Loyal Bo Bo scored emphatically for Frankie Lor and Derek Leung in the Class 4 Citi Wealth Advisory Services Handicap (1400m) after Kimberley, a dual Group 1 winner in Brazil before being transferred to former Hong Kong trainer Tony Millard, broke through his first win in Hong Kong for Jamie Richards with success in the Class 4 Citi Global Wealth Handicap (2000m) under Purton.

Purton sealed a brace atop Shum-trained Gorgeous Win in the Class 3 Citi Mortgage Services Handicap (1200m).

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (28 February).