Hong Kong’s latest superstar Golden Sixty stretched his unbeaten run to 12 in the Stewards’ Cup at Sha Tin.
However, Francis Lui’s five-year-old was made to pull out all the stops to add a second Group One to his record.
Dropped out as he usually is by Vincent Ho, he began his customary late surge early in the straight, but on this occasion the response was not quite as electric as it has been in the past.
While Golden Sixty was charging down the outside, neither Ka Ying Star nor Southern Legend were prepared to give an inch.
Golden Sixty got to within a neck and for a few strides it looked as if his winning run was about to come to an end as he could not get his head in front.
Champions need tenacity as well as class, though, and Golden Sixty forged ahead close home to beat Southern Legend by a head.
“They went pretty slow all the way, actually, so he was a little keen and he was pulling a little bit and then everyone sprinted home,” said Ho.
“I knew I would still get there, but it was quite close.
“The saddle slipped back a little bit at the 300 (metre mark) but it was still OK, but it was not as comfortable for me and Golden Sixty, of course.
“But top athletes, top horses need to overcome all kinds of different circumstances.”
Liu said: “I was a bit worried. The pace was a bit slow. I feel OK now after the race.”
The Hong Kong Gold Cup – the second leg of the Triple Crown – is likely to be Golden Sixty’s next race.
“We’ll just see how he recovers,” Lui said.
Sprinter Silent Witness currently holds the record for the longest winning streak in Hong Kong. He was beaten by Bullish Luck after 17 straight wins.
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Francis Lui is expecting the Hong Kong Stewards’ Cup to provide another significant test for his superstar Golden Sixty as he bids for a 12th consecutive victory at Sha Tin.
Golden Sixty will be a long odds-on favourite as he vies for Sunday’s HK$12million prize against seven rivals – six of whom he has defeated previously.
Only Rise High has not crossed paths with the Australian-bred, but Lui is not allowing himself to become complacent.
“He’s OK, he’s in good form,” he said of his prolific winner.
“I really think at this moment that he’s ready.
“Most of the horses have run recently, which will bring up their condition, so I think it’s going to be competitive.”
Golden Sixty has dominated the Hong Kong racing scene for much of the past two years, winning 14 of his 15 starts since making his first appearance for Lui in 2019.
Each of those triumphs, and indeed the sole loss, has been on the home turf of Sha Tin racecourse – where Lui is based and trains his string.
Golden Sixty took his first Group contest last January when winning the Chinese Club Challenge Cup over seven furlongs, before gradually stepping up in trip to eventually land the Hong Kong Derby – run over 10 furlongs.
This season the son of Medaglia d’Oro has been campaigned largely over a mile and has continued his unstoppable rise to the summit of that division.
He took two consecutive Group Two prizes in the shape of the Sha Tin Trophy and the Jockey Club Mile.
The latter was his 11th straight win – surpassing the achievement of the recently-retired Beauty Generation, who had recorded 10 consecutive wins on Hong Kong turf.
On his first foray into Group One company, in the Longines Hong Kong Mile in December, Golden Sixty took on stiff European competition for the first time.
But Ballydoyle’s Order Of Australia, shock Breeders’ Cup Mile winner on his previous start, was easily swept aside – along with 2018 Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Romanised, and Beauty Generation.
Beyond this weekend’s Group One bid, Lui has a return to 10 furlongs in mind as he targets the Hong Kong Gold Cup next and then considers either the Champions Mile or the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, both top-level events run in April.
“After this race, next month, he’ll go for the Gold Cup,” he said.
“I’m preparing for the Gold Cup, and then after that it will be April’s race.”
Overseas fans of Golden Sixty may have to wait until next season to see him run internationally, however, with Lui confirming that the Covid-19 pandemic has scuppered any plans of a venture abroad.
He said: “I’m asked if I will send the horse overseas – but at this stage, because of the coronavirus, I’m likely to keep him in Hong Kong.”
Although targets such as Meydan’s Dubai Turf, Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes or the Breeders’ Cup in November may seem to suit Golden Sixty’s profile, Lui is more inclined to look to Japan’s racing calendar as he maps out future possibilities.
“If I was to plan overseas races then I think I would prefer Japan,” he said.
“I don’t have a race in my mind at the moment – but if I was to go overseas then my first option would be Japan, maybe Royal Ascot, potentially. I’m not so sure about Dubai.”
Lui welcomes the idea too that more international big-hitters may head to Hong Kong to take on his stable star.
“Of course, I like the overseas horses to come to Hong Kong,” he said.
“It’s good for us, they’re very good races for the international horses to come over and run in.”
In the meantime, Lui admits he does feel the responsibility of training an apparently infallible horse.
“Of course the horse brings my name up, raises my profile – but sometimes we are under pressure,” he added.
“That’s why we really look after the horse. He’s one of the best horses in Hong Kong, (so) I have to take good care of him.”
“We are trying to keep that (record) up, to go on and break any records. I will try my best. He is the best – he’s the best horse I’ve trained.”
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Golden Sixty registered an 11th straight victory in the Longines Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin.
Francis Lui’s stable star was unsurprisingly all the rage to extended his winning streak in the hands of regular partner Vincent Ho.
The five-year-old did not enjoy the perfect trip, as he was stuck wide for much of the race, but Golden Sixty proved his class with an ultimately emphatic success.
The five-year-old was nearer last than first rounding the home turn, but soon found top gear to reel in the leaders before powering two lengths clear with relative ease – his 14th victory from 15 career starts overall.
Southern Legend beat Admire Mars to the runner-up spot, with Aidan O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia ultimately well beaten in sixth and the Ken Condon-trained Romanised last of the 10 runners.
Lui said: “I can have a good sleep tonight! I’m very happy – at the moment, I don’t know what to say, (my heart) is still pumping. As a jockey, as a trainer, as an owner, you’re dreaming of this.
“I was worried about the horses from Japan and Ireland but now, after this race, he has shown me that he’s a champion.
Ho added: “When I hit the top of the straight, I knew. I was just cruising and I didn’t think anyone could beat him in that sort of sprint.
“He’s a horse that really wants to compete, he’s the best horse in Hong Kong at the moment. Today is all about him.”
Of Order Of Australia, O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing: “We were very happy with his run. He had a completely different draw to what he had in America – he was drawn in rather than out.
“He was caught behind the pace a little bit. He’s a little bit lazy in the middle of his races and when you ask him to go you need to be able to keep going. Today the gaps didn’t come for him and he just went down a gear.
“He ran very well and we think he’s going to be a lovely miler next year. He could run in something like the Queen Anne in Royal Ascot, and maybe have a run before it.”
Ryan Moore landed the Hong Kong Sprint aboard Takayuki Yasuda’s Danon Smash.
The Japanese challenger hit the front inside the final furlong and held the challenge of unconsidered outsider Jolly Banner at bay by half a length, with Rattan not far behind in third.
Moore said: “We got lucky – he stepped very well and we managed to slot into a lovely spot, I was always happy and when the pace steadied around the bend, I was able to just move out and keep moving forward and he got there in plenty of time.
“He was very tough and very honest – he was a pleasure to ride and he’d shown very good form at times in Japan’s best sprints and at seven furlongs as well he’s won some of the best races at Group Two level and he deserved to win his Group One.
“I’m delighted and just thankful for being asked to ride him and I also need to thank the owners Danox and Mr Yasuda certainly knows how to prepare a sprinter for a Hong Kong Sprint.”
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