Opening day triumph keeps Regency Legend on Group 1 trail
Regency Legend stretched his perfect record to four wins with an impressive victory in the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m) at Sha Tin today, Sunday, 1 September.
The victory meant that trainer Danny Shum not only made good on a promise but also bolstered his long-held assertion that participation in this year’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) should be within his rising stable star’s scope.
“That was real good, he’ll go to the Group 1 – he can!” Shum declared, adding that the four-year-old’s route to that 8 December feature has yet to be determined.
“He loves to race fresh so I’ll keep him fresh, I won't run him too soon,” the handler said. “I’ll talk to the owner and talk to Zac (Purton) and we’ll see where we go next. He might have only one more run in November and then into the Group 1 in December. I just hope I can have Zac on board.”
The way Regency Legend swept clear of smart rivals to win the season’s opening day feature by an easy length and a half under the champion jockey will have put the sprint division’s leading players on alert.
“There’s no reason why he can’t go forward and progress to the Group 1 in December because in his races he’s done nothing wrong,” Purton said. “The older horses are coming to the end of their tether a little bit, so it’s leaving the door open for a horse like him.
“It was a fairly shallow race in the sense that the older horses had heavy weights and there wasn’t really another young horse coming through, so he was well-rated and the race was always going to map well for him, he was going to be forward out of trouble.”
And that is how it played out in the seven-runner contest. Bottom-weight Styling City (115lb) led; Regency Legend (120lb) sat outside and then sprinted on by.
“After we went 50 metres it really was at his mercy, it was just a matter of him producing what he needed to,” Purton said.
Things could have turned out differently for Regency Legend, though, had Shum not taken a patient approach. The Pins gelding injured his left hind leg in March, which meant his season was curtailed with three unblemished wins on the board.
“The owner has given me a lot of support, he’s been patient,” Shum said. “The horse hurt his leg and that really made me worried for a while but I didn't rush. I said give me time, and if we can keep him sound, he’ll definitely win the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup. So I made the promise half a year ago!
“It was easy. He’s a very good horse at 1200m, that’s his best distance.”
The Caspar Fownes-trained Lucky Nine won the feature in 2010 before going on to win the 2011 Hong Kong Sprint, while today’s runner-up Seasons Bloom (132lb) went on to win the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) for Shum after his 2017 win.
Shum is noted for making a flying start to a season and, true to form, the experienced handler left the track with a double. His first win came in the first race, the Class 5 Mount Butler Handicap (1600m), and it was Purton in the plate again as Good Runners Way edged out the Joao Moreira ridden Regency Gem.
“I always fly high!” Shum said.
Douglas Whyte was flying high too after he nailed his first win as a trainer in race two, the Class 5 Mount Parker Handicap (1200m). Regan Bayliss guided the gelding to a historic victory for the legendary 13-time champion jockey.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s fantastic,” Whyte said.
Regency Legend’s win added lustre to the already gilded appearance of Hong Kong’s emerging talent pool, which includes the likes of Aethero and Champions Way, both set to return in the coming weeks.
Golden Sixty (130lb) can be added to the list after surging to success under Vincent Ho in the Class 3 Sunset Peak Handicap (1200m). Francis Lui’s 75-rated bay bounced back from a late-season defeat to make it four wins from five starts and showed once again that he could be a force capable of rising high.
“I expected him to be competitive and he really showed his heart today - which was good,” Ho said after the four-year-old defeated another smart young gun, Mr Croissant (126lb), by a length and a quarter, thanks to a deep-closing burst that saw him clock 21.91s for the final 400m.
“He was very sharp out of the gate but I wanted him to settle and I was sure he was going to pick up very well - I wasn’t in a rush,” Ho said.
The rider is in the zone after a successful spell in Britain this summer and will head to Seoul next week to ride Hong Kong’s representatives Glorious Artist and ugly Warrior at the Korea Autumn Racing Carnival.
Two more young prospects battled for the Class 4 Yi Tung Shan Handicap (1000m) with the Benno Yung-trained Ka Ying Master (130lb) outpointing Dancing Fighter (132lb).
“He’s the easiest colt I’ve ever ridden, he’s quiet and honest,” winning jockey Keith Yeung said. “I think he still has plenty of improvement. He hasn't tightened up yet, he’s a bit fat, to me, and he’ll grow more solid. He has a bright future.”
Ho and Lui made it a double together in the finale, the Class 3 Li Fa Shan Handicap (1400m), thanks to Cordyceps.
Gold Chest arrived from Britain last term with a sizeable reputation. The well-bred War Front gelding, known as Naval Intelligence pre-import, was unable to measure up to expectations when down the field in both the BMW Hong Kong Derby and Hong Kong Classic Cup.
But trainer Richard Gibson has been based at Sha Tin long enough to know that a failed four-year-old classic campaign can still be the springboard to a successful Hong Kong career. The bay finally broke his local duck at his eighth start in the Class 2 Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1400m) and he did it in some style under Derek Leung.
“It was a cool ride from Derek and we’ve got an exciting horse to work with this year,” Gibson said.
“You can’t hide my disappointment from last season: of course we expected better from the horse, but like many horses from Europe, with one preparation under their belt they improve the next year.
“It was a comfortable win today, I think the horse will increase in distance and I think he will continue to improve.”
Aldo Domeyer showed a sharp pair of heels to his fellow jockeys when winning the annual jockeys’ sprint relay race at last Saturday’s Pre-season Carnival, and he made a fast start to his season with a double this afternoon.
The South African rode a fairly impressive 13 wins during a late-season contract and continued that momentum with a race-to-race brace for trainer Tony Cruz. California Gungho’s win in the Class 4 Ma On Shan Handicap (1200m) was straightforward but Domeyer had to survive an objection before Sunshine Warrior’s win was confirmed in the Class 4 Kowloon Peak Handicap (1400m).
“The jockey made a mistake in the last 100 metres, he put his head down and the horse drifted, but he was going on too strongly anyway,” Cruz said. “He will see his mistake and he’ll improve on it, I’m sure of that – I’m sure he can be successful here.”
Cruz bagged a treble when the Alfred Chan-ridden Multimillion took the Class 3 Lantau Peak Handicap (1000m).
“My horses are in good form, they’re fit and forward, I’m happy with them,” Cruz added.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday, 8 September.