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Golden Sixty hangs on for fourth successive Group One

Golden Sixty was made to pull out all the stops to notch a fourth successive Group One triumph in the FWD Champions Mile at Sha Tin.

Hong Kong’s latest superstar was chasing a 17th victory overall for trainer Francis Lui and jockey Vincent Ho, but his two most recent wins had not been completely straightforward.

The five-year-old’s saddle slipped when holding on by a head to win the Stewards Cup in January, while he just prevailed by a short-head from Furore on his most recent appearance in the 10-furlong Hong Kong Gold Cup.

Returning to a mile, Golden Sixty was a hot favourite to extend his winning streak – and looked set to score decisively after sweeping to the front early in the home straight.

However, More Than This built up a head of steam in the final furlong and in the end there was just a head between the pair at the line.

Ho said: “He has never been chased and we learnt today that he still can fight when something chases him, not just when he is doing the chasing, which is good.

“That was amazing (to have a crowd), a big thanks to all the fans today who came out, it makes such a difference, the atmosphere and everything is so much different.

“It’s been a good season, seven races for Golden Sixty and I’m happy for him to win this, hopefully he will have a break now until next season, he had a couple of tough runs these past two.”

Daring Tact had to make do with minor honours at Sha Tin
Daring Tact had to make do with minor honours at Sha Tin (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Ho completed a big-race double in the following FWD QEII Cup aboard Loves Only You.

Yoshito Yahagi’s mare led home a Japanese one-two-three-four in the Group One contest, with Glory Vase finishing second, Daring Tact third and Kiseki fourth.

Daring Tact – winner of the Fillies’ Triple Crown in her homeland in 2020 – was a hot favourite, but had to make do with minor honours behind Loves Only You, who was last seen finishing third to John and Thady Gosden’s Mishriff in the Dubai Sheema Classic.

“I can’t describe it,” Ho said of his big-race double.

“I don’t dare to look back until the finish line, but she was amazing. I’m grateful that the Japanese connections asked me to ride her.

“The QEII Cup is one of my dream goals as well as the Derby and the December internationals, a QEII win means a lot.

“It’s amazing today with Golden Sixty and Loves Only You. It’s definitely one of the highlights, I’ll enjoy it for sure.”

The other Group One prize on the card, the Chairman’s Sprint, went to Richard Gibson’s Wellington, with Alexis Badel the winning rider.

A total of 5,179 people were in attendance at Sha Tin, and Gibson was thrilled to see his charge triumph in front of a crowd.

He said: “It’s fantastic to see the fans back today and I’m just delighted for the owners. They were one of the first owners in my stable when I came here. They’ve been very loyal and supportive and it’s a great satisfaction to source and deliver such a great horse.”

Japanese star Daring Tact ready for Hong Kong debut

A stellar card at Sha Tin on Sunday sees the Hong Kong debut of brilliant Japanese filly Daring Tact – and racegoers in Europe could get to see her in action at some stage in the future.

Winner of the Fillies’ Triple Crown in her homeland in 2020, the Haruki Sugiyama-trained four-year-old is all set for the FWD QEII Cup, where she will be part of a four-pronged Japanese attack on the Group One prize.

Joining her in the 10-furlong feature is Dubai Sheema Classic third Loves Only You, Glory Vase and Kiseki.

Daring Tact – who runs in the colours of Makio Okada’s Normandy Thoroughbred Racing Co Ltd – was third in the Japan Cup to Almond Eye and Contrail in November, and returned with a narrow defeat in March.

Progression is expected from that outing, and Okada said: “Generally speaking, fillies and mares are more difficult to train in winter and early spring than colts.

“Daring Tact is covered by a long coat during the winter break and she was not 100 per cent fit on the day of Kinko Sho in March. And it was a competitive field and the ground was testing, therefore I think she ran well enough for her seasonal debut.

“After the Kinko Sho, her condition has been improving significantly.”

Reflecting on her run in a top-class renewal of the Japan Cup, Okada said: “I am sure it was a great race and Daring Tact ran very bravely. At the top of home stretch, I had a feeling that she might be well beaten, but she bounced back and finished very strongly.

“That performance gave me the conviction that Daring Tact is a class horse.”

On the subject of travelling outside of Japan, Okada said: “Her trainer Haruki Sugiyama is very keen for an international campaign, as he is convinced Daring Tact should be competitive at everywhere in the world. As we talked about the plan for the first half of 2021, we have found the QEII Cup is a suitable race.

“After the QEII Cup, I believe the next start is the Group One Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in June. And if Daring Tact runs well both in the QEII Cup and Takarazuka Kinen, I think we have to think about the campaign in Europe and, in my opinion, we should consider major races in United States as well.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s race, Okada said: “It is a quality field and I know this is not an easy task for Daring Tact. The Japanese team is strong and local runners are tough at Sha Tin.

“But if Daring Tact runs her own race, I believe she should run well.”

He added: “Honestly speaking, I think her best trip is 2400 metres (mile and a half). But she won the Group One Shuka Sho over 2000m and I do not think the distance is a problem.

“She is a versatile horse and I believe Daring Tact can handle the Sha Tin track well.”

Harry Bentley raring to go for Hong Kong debut

Harry Bentley will make a high-profile start to his spell in Hong Kong as he has six rides booked for Saturday’s meeting at Sha Tin.

After completing his mandatory 21-day Covid quarantine, Bentley is in demand as he kicks off a stint in Hong Kong, which is due to run to the end of the season in July.

Bentley will have his first ride aboard Telecom Missile in the six-furlong opener for trainer Dennis Yip, before partnering two for Douglas Whyte and one apiece for Frankie Lor, Michael Chang and Tony Cruz.

He said: “It was definitely a surprise, but a very welcome surprise, I’ve already said it a few times, but I always really wanted to come out here at one stage and give it a go because I feel like I fit the mould quite well, I’ve got some good international experience and my weight’s really good.

Harry Bentley will be in action at Sha Tin on Saturday
Harry Bentley will be in action at Sha Tin on Saturday (PA)

“I’m chomping at the bit, I feel good and obviously I haven’t sat on a horse since I’ve been here which is close to a month now, but that won’t be a problem and now seems the perfect time to give it a go, I have good experience behind me but I’m still quite young also.

“I’m under no illusions in how competitive this place is, it’s a very good pool of jockeys to compete against and I’m managing my expectations, but at the same time I want to give it my all – you have to be confident in your own abilities.

“If I came in here with no confidence, I may as well not bother, I’m definitely coming in with managed expectations, but at the same time I’m confident in my abilities.”

I’ve been abroad every single year since I started riding for the last 11 seasons

The 28-year-old is a six-times champion jockey in Qatar, but counts rides in France, Germany, Canada, America and Dubai on his CV.

He said: “I started going away to the Middle East when I was only 18 years old and I’ve been abroad every single year since I started riding for the last 11 seasons.

“I’ve ridden a lot in Dubai and Qatar, but also all around the Middle East in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”

“I had a great time in Qatar and I do think my experience from there will stand me in good stead because it’s quite a small oval track which is only around a mile around, it’s not quite as tight as Happy Valley, but it’s a tight track where it’s very pace and speed dependent.

“You have to be very positive from the stalls and I think that’ll give me a bit of an edge rather than having only arrived with experience from the United Kingdom.”

Harry Bentley enjoyed Group One glory with Limato
Harry Bentley enjoyed Group One glory with Limato (Simon Cooper/PA)

Bentley began his career with Gary Moore, riding his first winner in 2010, and he enjoyed a fruitful association with the Henry Candy-trained Limato a few seasons ago, winning the July Cup and Prix de la Foret in 2016.

“I think he (Limato) was very important for my career. It’s always good to be able to perform on the big stage in Group Ones and he was definitely important for me and my breakthrough winning Group Ones but not only that, he was just such a good horse to be associated with,” he said.

Ryan Moore, William Buick and Silvestre de Sousa have all ridden in Hong Kong, and Bentley has had the benefit of their advice ahead of his Sha Tin debut.

He added: “I spoke at length with Ryan Moore, I’ve known him for a while through riding and I was apprentice to his father Gary and the reason I was first ever able to go to Dubai was because Ryan helped me get over there.”

Golden Sixty made to work for Stewards’ Cup win

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.

Golden Sixty strikes again at Sha Tin

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.

Aidan O'Brien feels there is more to come from Order Of Australia
Aidan O’Brien feels there is more to come from Order Of Australia (PA)

“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.”

Purton out to make home advantage count on Exultant

Zac Purton is confident Exultant can make the most of having home advantage and get the better of Mogul in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.

The Tony Cruz-trained six-year-old will bid to reclaim the mile-and-a-half prize he landed in 2018, after suffering a surprise odds-on defeat when finishing third in the race 12 months ago.

While respecting the challenge of Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul – the Grand Prix de Paris winner – Purton believes he will have his work cut out against the locals.

Zac Purton feels Mogul will need to be at his best to beat Exultant in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin (Dan Abraham/PA)
Zac Purton feels Mogul will need to be at his best to beat Exultant in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin (Dan Abraham/PA)

“Mogul is obviously a quality horse and is only young and seems to be improving all the time. He won the Grand Prix de Paris well in France and he ran well at the Breeders’ Cup last time,” said Purton.

“He will be hard to beat, like anything Aidan O’Brien sends over. I’d be thinking though that home ground advantage would play into our hands and I just hope that works in my favour.

“We are training on the track regularly and we don’t have to travel anywhere, which is always a big help. That said, it will still be a tough race.”

Exultant has finished second in both his starts this season, however, the reigning Hong Kong champion jockey expects the former Mick Halford-trained gelding to show his true colours back up in trip.

Purton said: “He is back up to his peak distance in the Vase. It is only a small field with not a lot of pace in the race, but hopefully I can find a nice spot for him and get him in a good rhythm.

“He started his season over 1,800 metres (nine furlongs) and he was giving weight away to the rest of the field. They went a strong gallop and he felt the weight late on.

“He was back up to 2,000 metres (10 furlongs) last time, he did a bit of work through the race and again it was run at a strong gallop which tested his fitness. He has had those two runs and he should be ready for this race.”

Beauty Generation will bid to secure a third victory in the Longines Hong Kong Mile on Sunday (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Beauty Generation will bid to secure a third victory in the Longines Hong Kong Mile on Sunday (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Beauty Generation may no longer be the force of old, but Purton retains plenty of faith in the David Hayes-trained eight-year-old, who will be bidding to claim a third success in the Longines Hong Kong Mile

He said: “He is starting to get a bit long in the tooth and his form is not quite as good as last season, but I’ve not given up on him though, and we have a good gate on Sunday (stall three).

“He has a couple of runs in the locker to get that residual fitness, but his best runs have been when he is fresh over the last 18 months, so he has been given the chance to show his best in this.

“It would be a fairy tale if he could come back and win the race again. If he runs like he did first time out, he will give himself a chance.”

With Inferno a late absentee in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, Purton will now partner the Jimmy Ting-trained Amazing Star in the six-furlong Group One.

He said: “He has been impressive around Happy Valley and he ran OK at Sha Tin last time.

“He is not a young horse and he is only starting to emerge at six, but has drawn a good gate, so we will see how we go.”

Zac Purton lifts the Longines International Jockeys' Championship for the second time at Happy Valley
Zac Purton lifts the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship for the second time at Happy Valley (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

The Royal Ascot-winning rider will head into the weekend full of confidence after landing his second Longines International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday.

Purton, who previously claimed the prize in 2017, said: “I drew some nice gates for a change which was good and although I had no stand-out rides, that gave them every chance to run as well as they could to pick up a few points and that is exactly what happened.

“It was a close end to it, as I dead-heated for third in the final race and that was enough to give me the two extra points to beat Joao (Moreira). I really needed that photo to go my way and luckily it did.”

Hollie Doyle impressed Zac Purton on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)
Hollie Doyle impressed Zac Purton on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

Hollie Doyle has won plenty of admirers for her achievements in the saddle in Britain this season, and Purton was impressed with what he saw from her on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley.

The 24-year-old, who finished joint-third behind Purton with Alexis Badel, became the first female rider to win a leg at the meeting when steering Harmony N Blessed to victory in the finale.

He said: “I thought Hollie did really well, she picked up how to ride the track quickly.

“For someone coming to Happy Valley and being thrown into the fire like that, I was impressed with the way she handled the track and her results showed that.”

Soumillon ruled out of Hong Kong meeting

Christophe Soumillon has been ruled out of Sunday’s Longines International Races at Sha Tin.

Soumillon will not be permitted to ride by the Hong Kong Jockey Club as he has yet to receive an “unconditional release” from his Covid-19 quarantine period.

A HKJC statement read: “The Hong Kong Jockey Club has been informed by Christophe Soumillon that he has been requested by the Department of Health to undergo further Covid-19 tests.

“It is unknown at this stage when the testing will be completed and when Soumillon will be released from quarantine.

“Soumillon was licensed by the Club on the basis that he would undergo a mandatory 14 days quarantine under the Compulsory Quarantine of Persons Arriving at Hong Kong from Foreign Places Regulation.

“Soumillon arrived at Hong Kong on November 26 and commenced this 14 days quarantine.

“Despite having cleared his initial Covid-19 test on his arrival, he has yet to receive an unconditional release from quarantine in order to ride on this coming Sunday.

“The Club has taken advice from its chief medical officer. Given these circumstances the stewards have decided to stand him down from Sunday’s riding engagements.”

Soumillon had been due to take part in the four Group One features in Hong Kong, as well as riding five horses in supporting races.

Ryan Moore will now take over aboard Admire Mars in the Hong Kong Mile, with Zac Purton stepping in to partner Japanese runner Normcore in the Cup.

Soumillion’s intended Vase mount Ho Ho Khan will now be ridden by Vincent Ho and Alexis Badel will be on Computer Patch in the Sprint.

It is the second time Soumillon has been forced to miss a high-profile international meeting this year, with a positive Covid-19 test having also ruled him out of last month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting.

Moore hopeful of more magic in Hong Kong

Ryan Moore believes Magical is capable of notching up her eighth Group One success in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin.

Former Aidan O’Brien-trained runners Highland Reel, Yeats, Minding and Rock Of Gibraltar all claimed seven top-level successes, but Magical could raise the bar for the Ballydoyle handler if she triumphs in the 10-furlong feature.

Magical added both the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Irish Champion Stakes to her tally this term and was last seen chasing home Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland last month.

While Moore believes she is the one to beat, he is wary of the Japanese-trained challenge as well as home hope Furore, who has won his last two outings for Tony Cruz.

Longines Irish Champions Weekend – Day One – Leopardstown Racecourse
Magical got the better of Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes (PA)

Moore said: “She’s been great for a long time and it’s fantastic that she’s here. She’s won seven Group Ones.

“The reality is they probably have her to beat, but again you always respect the horses that are in there.

“There’s three smart Japanese horses in there that have all won Group Ones (Danon Premium, Win Bright and Normcore).

“And Furore is in good shape. It’s a small field, but there’s not a bad one in there, I don’t think.”

Mogul was fifth in America on his latest start
Mogul was fifth in America on his latest start (Dan Abraham/PA)

Moore also teams up with the O’Brien-trained Mogul in the Longines Hong Kong Vase, with the colt having finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his latest run.

“He’s a beautiful horse, we’ve always held him high regard,” he said.

“He took a while to come to hand this year, but you’ll see him out on the track – he’s very well-made, a very strong colt.

“He was very impressive when he won the Grand Prix de Paris (on) Arc Trials weekend and, at the Breeders Cup, he wasn’t beaten far in what was a messy sort of a race.

“Obviously there’s only seven in there (the Vase), Exultant always runs his race but he (Mogul) would look to have a solid chance in that race.”

Moore will also be in action in the Hong Kong Sprint as he teams up with Japanese contender Danon Smash.

His trainer Takayuki Yasuda won the six-furlong prize with Danon Smash’s sire Lord Kanaloa in both 2012 and 2013.

Danon Smash finished a close-up eighth last year, but Moore is expecting a tough task against former Australian star and Everest winner Classique Legend, who is having his first run for Casper Fownes.

Danon Smash lines up in the Sprint for Moore
Danon Smash lines up in the Sprint for Moore (HKJC)

“He seems well. He’s got plenty of form in the book and it’s always hard to beat the Hong Kong horses in the Sprint,” he said.

“Obviously this year, Classique Legend looked exceptional in Australia. As always, it’s a tough race and we probably have to step up a little bit, but hopefully he can get a good run and perform well.”

Moore has prevailed on five occasions at the Hong Kong International Races – twice in the Vase with globetrotting Highland Reel in 2015 and 2017, the Cup with Snow Fairy (2010) and Maurice (2016) and the Mile with Maurice (2015).

Magical in Hong Kong Cup mix

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical heads the stellar cast in contention for the hugely valuable Longines Hong Kong International meeting at Sha Tin.

Staged on December 13, the card is worth more than £9million in prize money across four Group One contests, three of which offer the largest purse on turf over their respective distances.

Seven-time Group One winner Magical is engaged in the Hong Kong Cup, run over a mile and two furlongs, and was most recently seen finishing a length behind Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland.

Her last victory was in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September, where she saw off the horse that tops this year’s Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, the Godolphin-owned Ghaiyyath.

Magical is likely to be joined by stablemate Peaceful, who took the Irish 1,000 Guineas this season, with Jerome Reynier’s Prix Dollar winner Skalleti also representing the European contingent.

The Japanese flag is flown by last year’s victor Win Bright, who is undefeated in two runs at the track, while the home side field 2019 Hong Kong Derby winner Furore.

The Hong Kong Mile is also contested by a former winner, as Admire Mars returns to defend his crown for Japanese trainer Yasuo Tomomichi.

The colt faces stiff opposition from Golden Sixty, who has put together a remarkable 10-race winning streak and bids to claim his first Group One title.

Beauty Generation, who took the race in both 2017 and 2018, is also set to take part as he looks to return to winning ways for new trainer David Hayes.

Ireland are represented by two runners from Ballydoyle, surprise Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia and Lope Y Fernandez, who finished third in the same race – with Ken Condon’s dual Minstrel Stakes and 2018 Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Romanised also entered.

Hot King Prawn carries the hopes of Hong Kong in the six-furlong sprint, in what will be a quick turnaround from his winning performance in the Group Two Jockey Club Sprint on November 22.

He will face Classique Legend, a new recruit to the yard of leading Hong Kong trainer Caspar Fownes, and Singapore’s Inferno, a two-time Grade One winner.

Grand Prix de Paris winner and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Mogul lines up for Ballydoyle in the Hong Kong Vase – alongside the globe-trotting Royal Julius, who was the victor in the 2019 Bahrain International Trophy.

Five-time Group One winner Exultant bids to regain the title, having prevailed in 2018 and then missed out last year when third behind the aptly-named Glory Vase.

Addeybb heads British entries for Hong Kong International races

The Longines Hong Kong International meeting at Sha Tin on December 13 has attracted a host of high-calibre entrants from across the globe.

William Haggas’ Addeybb leads the British contingent in the Hong Kong Cup after a decisive victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, with French-trained runner-up Skalleti also put forward for the 10-furlong contest alongside Aidan O’Brien’s third-placed Magical.

John Gosden has nominated Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Lord North for the race along with Mehdaayih, while James Fanshawe’s Audarya and Francis-Henri Graffard’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes champion The Revenant are also entered.

Seven-time Group One winner Almond Eye, trained by Sakae Kunieda, heads the entries for Japan, with last season’s champion Win Bright and the globally-campaigned Deirdre also flying the flag for the nation.

Anthony Van Dyck, the 2019 Derby hero, holds a place in the Hong Kong Vase for Ballydoyle, with this season’s German Derby hero and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up In Swoop also engaged.

Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year Exultant, who captured the race in 2018 and has won 11 times at Sha Tin, could try to reclaim his crown for the hosts having finished third last year.

Chris Waller has entered his Caulfield Cup winner Verry Elleegant, a six-times Group One champion, and Dermot Weld has nominated Prix Vermeille and Prix de l’Opera victor Tarnawa.

Addeybb, Lord North and Mehdaayih also have Vase options, along with Ed Dunlop’s Red Verdon.

Beat The Clock is due to defend his crown in the six-furlong Hong Kong Sprint, facing competition from Everest winner Classique Legend, who will be transferred to the base of Caspar Fownes in November to be trained for the race.

Britain could be represented by July Cup champion Oxted and British Champions Sprint winner Glen Shiel, with Charlie Hills’ Equilateral also holding an entry.

Four Wheel Drive, victorious in the Group Two Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, has also been engaged by trainer Wesley Ward while Make A Challenge is in the mix for Denis Hogan.

Haggas’ One Master, John Quinn’s Safe Voyage and O’Brien’s Circus Maximus are among the overseas contingent in the Mile where they could meet new Hong Kong superstar Golden Sixty.

Monday Musings: The End is Nigh?

At last some movement, writes Tony Stafford. The five-week-long stretch of mockingly-sunny days with unblemished blue skies is about to break in the South of England according to a weather forecast I took scant notice of on Saturday evening. Horse racing is about to start in Germany, on May 4th, and in France a week later.

Hints and allegations, to quote Paul Simon, swirl around the possible resumption in the UK, with mid-May being hinted and Nick Rust reportedly the target of allegations from some senior trainers according to yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. Rust, whose six-year stint as chief executive of the BHA will end at the conclusion of a year’s notice on Dec 31, according to the paper has been urged to step aside immediately by senior trainers including Ralph Beckett and Mark Johnston.

That pair is reputedly among a group that has canvassed Annamarie Phelps, chair of the BHA, to remove Rust amid disquiet about his handling of the sport during the suspension of racing as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. They clearly believe a rapid resumption behind closed doors is vital, with no racing having been staged in the UK since March 17th, a week after the beginning of the highly controversial Cheltenham Festival.

It is likely that any hesitancy by the sport and its figurehead Nick Rust to press for an imminent return is partly based on the lingering embarrassment that some feel because Cheltenham was allowed to proceed. Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, is also the MP for Newmarket and it would be interesting to discover how he voted when the calls by other politicians to cancel the meeting were being discussed in Cabinet.

Hughie Morrison, interviewed by John Hunt on Sky Sports Racing the other night, put a very strong case for an early resumption. He said that a behind-closed-doors race meeting could easily be staged with probably a much lower chance of spreading a contagion like Covid19 than mooching round a supermarket to do the weekly shopping. People might be asked to keep their distance in shops, not that they do, so it’s hard to see how anyone with the virus will contrive to keep it to him or herself in that environment.

Morrison reckons race meetings would be relatively easy to organise: with no racegoers other than trainers, jockeys, officials and the odd owner – one per horse the norm when Ireland were racing behind their closed doors before drawing stumps last month – and in the countryside, risks Hughie says would be minimal.

I like the potential look of a mid-to late-May restart, with the plan for both Guineas at the start of June, Royal Ascot – maybe Prince Andrew can be persuaded to come out of his Royal lockdown and tasked to present all the winners’ prizes – fan-free but in its usual slot, and the Derby and Oaks on one day at Epsom at the end of June or beginning of July. The May resumption would allow Classic trials to be staged in advance of the Guineas races.

One unkind soul, when the likelihood of crowd-free meetings extending some way into the future, suggested there might in that case be more people than is usual at some Newcastle and Southwell all-weather meetings!

But joking apart – this is no joking matter – we need racing to return. I heard second-hand from a friend of a friend, who is also a friend, that one major bookmaking company is suffering very little compared with normal activity, such has been the take-up of on-line games and the like.

There is such a hunger for something to bet on – as I hinted or alleged last week – that many bookmaker and casino-game firms are inundating the breaks between television programmes with advertising material.

Imagine how much more business they will be doing when racing and top-flight football return. As to the latter sport I find it totally mind-numbing the way certain newspaper web sites keep reporting on possible future transfer deals and what their tame football celebrities think on many matters, mostly about how little they deserve to have their salaries reduced.

For all the tragedy of at least 20,000 hospital deaths associated with the virus, while obviously by no means the only cause, and however many more elsewhere especially in care homes, some elements of normal life remain.

One long-term friend, a racing fan who had been struggling in the winter despite having for many years sold motor vehicles while also running a shellfish cabin in deepest Essex, told me the other day things have turned around. The fish bar was never a restaurant, so it didn’t need to close. Meanwhile he’s been furloughed from the car sales job so has been able to run the cabin full-time on the four days it opens from Thursday to Sunday, rather than just the weekend.

Now they are doing deliveries and take-outs and he says business is booming. When I’m allowed out again I’ll go down to Billericay and take up Kevin’s offer of a free surf and turf. It’s too far for their home delivery service to accommodate me in Hackney Wick, 30 odd miles away, so I’ll have to be patient.

There were two million-pound-to-the-winner races at Sha Tin in Hong Kong yesterday morning with mixed fortunes for jockey Zac Purton on the two odds-on favourites. Beauty Generation was foiled by a short-head in the Mile race, but Purton got his revenge aboard Exultant in the QEII Cup. Exultant, the champion middle-distance horse in HK is now a six-year-old; as a three-year-old for Mick Halford when called Irishcorrespondent, the son of Teolifio won his first two races and then finished third to Churchill in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

The Irish Guineas, and all other Classic races in that country and the UK, will need to be slotted into the European programme and full marks to the French for getting their retaliation in first. One positive side-effect for racecourses is that their ground has had a much better chance to recover from the rigours suffered during the incessant rain and universally-heavy ground early in the year, while the Flat-only tracks will be looking pristine.

A happy consequence of that will be that they will last longer into the year when we resume. For instance, in Yorkshire, Ripon and Thirsk, which normally are looking to close their doors early in September, can be capable of going on much longer. I believe that Flat racing in the UK in 2020 could easily be staged on grass well beyond the normal early November finale at Doncaster. Who’s up for a New Year’s Eve spectacular at Newmarket?

 - TS