Battle lines drawn as global raiders return to take on the Warrior

Graham Cunningham

01/12/2023 09:30

Romantic Warrior wins impressively in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.
Romantic Warrior wins impressively in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.


Winning a LONGINES Hong Kong Cup is tough, defending the crown twelve months on is even tougher.

California Memory went back-to-back for Tony Cruz and Matthew Chadwick in 2011 and 2012 but he remains the only horse to double up in Hong Kong’s richest race and Romantic Warrior heads into the 2023 renewal after a very different build-up to last year.

James McDonald said “he’s got everything a good horse needs and he’s got it in spades” after Danny Shum’s gelding ran clean away from a world-class field at Sha Tin twelve months ago.

Shum and McDonald went on to celebrate one of the most famous wins in Hong Kong racing history after Romantic Warrior’s dramatic Cox Plate success in October but there was nothing in reserve at Moonee Valley and this year’s Cup field – featuring live threats from Ireland, Japan and France – leaves precious little margin for error.


Luxembourg (Aidan O’Brien)

International Rating - 123

Not many horses win a G1 contest at two, three and four and Luxembourg’s presence – with an international rating identical to Romantic Warrior - adds a great deal to this year’s Cup.

True, his proud head carriage can make him look slightly awkward, but he never flinched in winning the Irish Champion Stakes in September 2022 and ran right up to that level, worn down late after a sustained duel with illustrious stablemate Auguste Rodin, in the Leopardstown showpiece this year.

That form has been polished several times this autumn. Add in the fact that Luxembourg is fresh from a break and tactically versatile and his chance of giving Aidan a first Cup success (Powerscourt, Magical and Magic Wand finished fourth, third and second) is clear for all to see.


Horizon Dore (Patrice Cottier)

International Rating – 120

France has won the Cup three times with Jim And Tonic, Pride and Vision D’Etat and, in a year when the Tricolore has flown proudly after major races at home and abroad, Horizon Dore adds a seductive layer of Gallic flair to this year’s race.

The fact that this three-year-old is gelded meant the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was off limits but he’s made striking progress over 2000m, winning four valuable prizes with plenty to spare then finishing an honourable third in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on his G1 debut.

A glance at his record suggests that Horizon Dore needs soft ground to produce his best but looks can be deceiving. France’s first Cup contender since 2020 is a notably smooth traveller with a potent turn of foot – and Sha Tin’s faster surface might just suit him very well indeed.


Prognosis (Mitsumasa Nakauchida)

International Rating - 119

The prognosis for Prognosis is positive – albeit with certain reservations.

Zac Purton knew he faced a challenge on this Deep Impact colt in the FWD QEII Cup at Sha Tin in April, saying “his Achilles heel is his eagerness and I’ve got to try to get him to relax.” Purton duly settled his new partner at the back of the field but a slow tempo helped Romantic Warrior secure first run and the local hero eased home two lengths clear looking value for more.

There’s no doubt Prognosis returns to Sha Tin in good heart – as evidenced by a dominant G2 win and a solid third behind the peerless Equinox in the Tenno Sho – but Yuga Kawada summed him up neatly after his Sapporo success in August.

“He has big potential but it is so hard to get him to demonstrate his true ability,” said Kawada. Will the Achilles heel that Zac flagged up prove costly again? A bold run is on the cards if he can channel all his energy in the right direction.


Rousham Park (Hiroyasu Tanaka)

International Rating – 116

Yet to win in G1 company but on the up after a decisive Nakayama G2 success and the field he beat under Christophe Lemaire that day – including Titleholder, Geraldina and last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winner Win Marilyn – was stacked with elite performers.

Ratings suggest more will be needed to take this extra step but Rousham Park isn’t fully exposed after winning six of his ten starts and some reports suggest that Aussie star Damian Lane will be aboard for his first international assignment.


Hishi Iguazu (Noriyuki Hori)

International Rating – 115

Is this veteran still capable of producing the same form he showed when caught in the last strides by fellow Japanese raider Loves Only You in this race two years ago?

A February G2 win at Nakayama provides encouragement in that regard but Hishi Iguazu’s last three efforts have hinted that the fire doesn’t burn so brightly or consistently as it once did.

Perhaps the return to Sha Tin will help rekindle the spark. It clearly needs to as Prognosis finished well ahead of him in the Sapporo Kinen and the Tenno Sho in August and October.

Graham Cunningham

Graham Cunningham chose a career in racing ahead of the law thirty years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.

Nine years with the world-renowned Timeform organization paved the way for a lengthy spell as a reporter and columnist in various newspapers, starting with the Sporting Life and followed by the Racing Post and the London Evening Standard.

Graham also spent a more than a decade on television in the UK as a lead analyst for Racing UK and Channel 4 but moved to Hong Kong early in 2017 and was once employed as Senior Racing Media Content Specialist for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

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