Wellington returns to best form to claim second G1 with Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup victory
Banishing the travails of early-season setbacks in a supreme return to form, Wellington has clinched a second G1 triumph with rousing victory in the HK$12 million Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (20 February).
Erasing Richard Gibson and Alexis Badel’s frustrations over the poor fortune which dogged the mercurial sprinter in three outings this term, Wellington reprised his best with a devastating finish to eclipse Ka Ying Star and Waikuku.
Undimmed by the sodden conditions, Wellington showed trademark brilliance to prevail by three-quarters of a length to Ka Ying Star with race favourite Waikuku – who could not gain clear running until late before sprinting sharply when finally clear – a further neck away in third.
Last season’s winner of the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), Wellington will attempt to defend his crown in the third leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series on 24 April after his emphatic return to peak form.
“I’m obviously pleased for the horse, just had an irritating start to the season for him. We were lucky to have a horse after the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and all the misfortune that happened to those horses,” Gibson said, referring to the accident-marred feature in December.
“As I said before the race today, we were a bit unlucky in running last time so we thought it was the right time to hit 1400m and I thought he did it with class and style today.
“We were actually disappointed with the one draw. I wanted an outside draw and to ride him quiet and finish on the outside. Alexis and I really wanted to finish wide today, which I think was the key to the good acceleration he showed.
“This year, things haven’t quite gone right for him and we fancied our chances today and the horse delivered. We’ve got the third leg of the Sprint Series and we won’t be travelling with the horse, so we’ll concentrate on the third leg.”
Badel savoured his second Hong Kong G1 on the son of All Too Hard, who improved his record to eight wins from 14 attempts, while boosting his prizemoney earnings to almost HK$26 million.
“That was a strong and big win from the horse,” the Frenchman said. “From that draw, I was only trying to get him to relax over 1400. He was absolutely relaxed and I was looking for a way out and as soon as I could I find some space and let him accelerate and he gave me his best turn of foot.
“He’s a brilliant horse and I’m very happy because we’ve been so unlucky the first few runs this season. He deserved a win like this and I’m very happy.
“He’s certainly much more laidback, more relaxed than he used to be and that certainly helps the horse to stay the distance like he did today.”
Badel celebrated a double on John Size’s Leading Fortune, who won the Class 4 Time Warp Handicap (1600m) to improve his record to five wins from 37 starts. Size further consolidated his position at the top of the trainers’ championship – 49-47 over Frankie Lor – when Antoine Hamelin piloted Gallant Express to victory in the Class 3 Lucky Nine Handicap (1200m).
Zac Purton accelerated his pursuit of a fifth Hong Kong jockeys’ title with a double, cutting the deficit to Joao Moreira to only three wins – 74-71 - with the Brazilian sidelined for one more meeting.
The Australian prevailed on Packing Treadmill in the first section of the Class 4 Gold-Fun Handicap (1200m) for Francis Lui, marking Purton’s 70th triumph of the season.
“I think the draw (barrier two) helped him a lot because it was it was his first start, you can see he is still a little bit green in between horses,” Lui said. “I thought he had a chance but I really didn’t have the confidence to say he could win. We had a good jockey and good draw though,”
Purton completed a double aboard Voyage Bubble in the second section of the Class 4 Happy Zero Handicap (1200m), prompting trainer Ricky Yiu to contemplate a tilt at next season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
“This season, we’re going to space his runs and keep him ticking over and hope that maybe next season as a four-year-old, he can participate in the Four-Year-Old Series. I think up to 1400m to a mile is okay because he relaxes so well.
Frankie Lor and Matthew Chadwick combined to claim the programme’s opener with Looking Great in the Class 2 Ambitious Dragon Handicap (2000m).
“He’s always very consistent and with a good draw last start, I think he could have won – 1600m, 1800m and 2000m, all are no problem for him,” Lor said, before Benno Yung and Harry Bentley continued strong seasons with Millennium Falcon’s success in the Class 4 Beauty Flash Handicap (1400m), marking Yung’s 24th win of the term and Bentley’s 16th.
Tony Cruz and Luke Ferraris combined with Majestic Victory to score an upset success in the Class 3 Werther Handicap (1600m) before Charity Grace posted his third victory in 10 starts when claiming the Class 3 California Memory Handicap (1400m) for Danny Shum and Matthew Poon.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (23 February).