Revered as a master tactician, Zac Purton believes the HK$12 million Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) will be decided by the smallest factors as Hong Kong’s three top-rated horses – Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and California Spangle – square off in a heavyweight clash at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Assessing the potential pitfalls of a race which features three of the world’s premier gallopers against three multiple Group 1 victors – Waikuku, Russian Emperor and Panfield – as well as the mercurial Beauty Joy, Purton predicts the tiniest element will ultimately decide the outcome.
“A small, little thing that happens at some stage of the race might be the defining moment for the result, so we all have to be on our game,” Purton, a five-time Hong Kong champion jockey, said. “More importantly, all the horses look like they’re on their game and they’re fit. It’s still early on in their preparation, so none of them are going to be over the top. We just hope it’s going to be a good race.”
Chasing his fourth Stewards’ Cup victory after previous triumphs on Fellowship (2010), Beauty Generation (2019) and Waikuku (2022), Purton continues his partnership with Tony Cruz-trained California Spangle, winner of nine of his 14 starts.
Having eclipsed Golden Sixty in last month’s Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m), and bracing for a rematch with Romantic Warrior, Purton expects the Sunday’s race to live up to expectations.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of talk around it (the race) – it’s a showdown. Let’s just hope that each of the horses gets their chance and they should in this small field as well,” said the Australian, who leads this season’s jockey championship by 42 wins.
“And let’s hope it goes down to the last 50 metres because we want it to be exciting and all three of them are in good form, so we look forward to it.
“Obviously of the horses that are left racing in the world at the moment, we have three horses actively racing inside the top 10 – it’s very unique to have them going to head-to-head in a race here in Hong Kong and I think that in itself explains the magnitude of the task we have ahead of ourselves.
“We want to ride these good horses in these big races and especially when we’re faced with some challenges and I have two strong challenges to come at me. I don’t know who is going to come out on top.”
Expected to again lead from barrier three, California Spangle will attempt to square the ledger with both Romantic Warrior and Golden Sixty. The five-year-old boasts one win and two losses against both of his rivals but continues to mature, according to Purton.
“Any time I get to jump on his back, it’s always enjoyable,” Purton said. “In more recent times this season, I’ve felt him relax a little bit better. The races aren’t buzzing him up as much as they were previously and he’s just starting to mature a little bit.
“He’s obviously led the majority of his career, so it’s a bit late to be changing anything now but I think he would be adaptable. He’s a very intelligent horse, but it’s probably not the race to be trying something new.”
Romantic Warrior, to be ridden by Karis Teetan, is chasing Hong Kong’s Triple Crown – the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on 26 February and the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 28 May.
Golden Sixty, paired with regular rider Vincent Ho, is bidding for a seventh Group 1 scalp – and 23rd victory from 27 starts when he starts from barrier two at the weekend.
Waikuku, now eight, will attempt to win the Stewards’ Cup for a third time, having also prevailed in 2020 for John Size. He will be ridden by Ryan Moore in his quest for a fourth Group 1.
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