FWD Champions Day – from a rating perspective

Simon Rowlands

27/04/2023 10:00

Golden Sixty will bid for a hat-trick of wins in the FWD Champions Mile.
Golden Sixty will bid for a hat-trick of wins in the FWD Champions Mile.

Horseracing in Hong Kong continues to make big waves on the international scene. We can gauge this by the consistent presence of its best horses in the lists of leading horses from around the globe, as judged by ratings, and by the wider significance of its top races.

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the three Group 1s at Sha Tin at the end of this month.

Between them, the FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup, the FWD Champions Mile and the Champions Sprint Prize have attracted five of the top eight horses in the world in the recently published update to the LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings (WBRR).

Local hero Golden Sixty (rated 125) is currently second only to Equinox (129), the brilliant Japanese-trained winner of the Sheema Classic in Dubai, on the world stage.

Lucky Sweynesse and Romantic Warrior (both 123) are joint fourth, and California Spangle and Dubai Honour (both 122) are joint sixth. There will be no more significant race meeting anywhere in the world around the time of this late-April slot.

Golden Sixty needs no introduction to Hong Kong racing fans, and little to racing enthusiasts around the world, many of whom will be checking in on the action from afar.

Golden Sixty lands the 2022 FWD Champions Mile in style.

He has won 24 of his 28 starts, was out on his own among Hong Kong horses on LONGINES WBRR ratings in 2020 and 2021, tied with Romantic Warrior in 2022, and has now edged ahead again, having beaten that rival by a head in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup on a rare attempt at 2000 metres last time.

The margin had been a length, with California Spangle close behind, when Golden Sixty beat Romantic Warrior in the Stewards’ Cup at 1600 metres in January.

Golden Sixty has a class edge over California Spangle and Waikuku (rated 118 on WBRR) in his bid for a third consecutive FWD Champions Mile, but not so much that he can afford to be more than a length or two off his “A” game.

A similar remark applies to Lucky Sweynesse, who has won 11 of 15 races, including his last four, and who goes in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, in which he has just two points to spare over Wellington on WBRR figures. There was just a length in Lucky Sweynesse’s favour when the pair met in the Sprint Cup here at the beginning of the month.

Before that, Lucky Sweynesse had beaten Wellington more convincingly, the pair split by California Spangle, in the 1400-metre Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup. 

Romantic Warrior remains at 2000 metres for the FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and therefore has no Golden Sixty to contend with, but his connections do have others to worry about.

Dubai Honour finishes fourth in the 2021 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.

Japan sends Danon The Kid (118), who was runner-up in the Hong Kong Cup on this course in December, while Britain ships in hot contender Dubai Honour (122), who has come here via Australia.

Dubai Honour failed to make much impact against the very best in his own backyard in 2022, but before that won two Group 2s in France in tremendous style, and since then has thrived in Australia, winning the Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick, both of them Group 1s and by clear margins.

Dubai Honour is a specialist at around 2000 metres, or 10 furlongs back in Britain, and his trademark is a terrific turn of foot.

His Rosehill win saw him run 33.31s for the final 600 metres, and he once ran a remarkable 11.02s on much more testing ground for the penultimate section at ParisLongchamp. Dubai Honour even ran 10.66s followed by 10.88s for successive furlongs (equivalent to 10.60s and 10.82s in metric terms) at York on his 2022 seasonal return but lost out in a photo finish.

Hong Kong racing fans may remember Dubai Honour from his fourth-placed finish in the Hong Kong Cup late in 2021, when he failed to get a clear run. The signs are that Dubai Honour is better now than then, though he will need to be luckier also!

Golden Sixty gets the better of Romantic Warrior in the G1 Stewards’ Cup.

Sectional times always need to be viewed in the context of the course and distance at which they were achieved, the precise speed of the surface at the time, and the pace which preceded them. But it is interesting to reflect that Dubai Honour’s Rosehill 33.31s is exactly the same as Golden Sixty’s fastest final 600 metres this year, when beating Romantic Warrior (who ran 33.55s in the process) in that 1600-metre Stewards’ Cup.

That said, Golden Sixty did post a 32.32s – including a 10.41s penultimate section – when winning the Jockey Club Mile here in November. Now, that is seriously fast!

Expect a big run from Dubai Honour in the FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup, especially if the emphasis ends up being on finishing speed.  

Danon The Kid has been in action twice this year, most recently when third in the G1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin at the beginning of April, when another contender for the FWD QE II Cup, Geraldina, was a bit below form in sixth. The latter has won at G1 level – a Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin – and comes out at WBRR 119 once her sex allowance is factored in.

Dubai Honour’s former stable companion at William Haggas’ yard, My Oberon, is now trained in Australia and goes to the FWD Champions Mile on the back of a narrow second in the G1 Doncaster Mile at Randwick. My Oberon was just below the top level in Europe and probably still is judged on an international rating of 115.

The other Brit to make the journey is Flaming Rib, second in the prestigious G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, though it was not the race’s best renewal and the colt won only once from seven starts in 2022. He added to that with a G3 win at Doha in February, but was well beaten at Meydan last time.

Hong Kong-trained runners head the ratings for all three of the big races on FWD Champions Day at Sha Tin, and have home-field advantage of course.

But international challengers should ensure they do not have things all their own way, not least in that FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup showdown between Hong Kong’s Romantic Warrior, Britain’s Dubai Honour, and the Japanese-trained Danon The Kid and Geraldina.

Simon Rowlands

Simon Rowlands worked for many years for British-based international form organisation Timeform. He is now a freelance writer and researcher who specialises in numerical and data-driven approaches to horseracing, especially in the area of ratings and timings.

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