By Leo Schlink, HKJC
Tony Cruz maintains Beauty Smile is still a work in progress after the Irish import’s dominant performance to claim the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m) with the four-year-old impressively eclipsing older and more accomplished opposition.
Contesting only his ninth start in Hong Kong, the chestnut was given a superb ride by Cruz’s former apprentice Matthew Chadwick to effortlessly bridge the rise from Class 2 company and extend his winning streak to two.
A Listed winner over 1400m as a two-year-old when he raced as Justifier for Ger Lyons in Ireland, Beauty Smile took seven starts to break through in Hong Kong but, after a sizzling Class 2 win over 1400m at Sha Tin on 31 January, Cruz was full of optimism pre-race.
“We came with a lot of confidence, just stepping up (in class) and all that,” he said.
“We were very confident. I thought it would be a stable quinella. I’m very disappointed with the other horse (California Rad, who finished seventh) – maybe there was something I missed with him.
“But I was also very confident with Beauty Smile.”
Cruz, who remains in contention for the trainers’ championship after moving to equal fourth with his 34th winner behind Caspar Fownes (43), had a simple explanation for Beauty Smile’s (113lb) emphatic success.
“He’s in good form – his run last time (in Class 2), he ran 1:21.09 (for 1400m). He’s going well,” Cruz said after Sunday’s defeat of Star Shine (117lb) and Fast Most Furious (131lb).
“There’s another run in March over 1400m, he’s eligible for that – I think I might go that way.”
Cruz praised Chadwick’s measured ride.
“He rode a perfect race, he’s riding with confidence now, especially on this horse now,” said Cruz, who previously won the Chinese New Year Cup with in 2013 with Penglai Xianzi.
Chadwick finished with a double after piloting Trust Me to success in the Class 3 Good Fortune Handicap (1200m) for Dennis Yip.
Acknowledging record turnover on the meeting of HK$1.843 billion, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer Mr Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges said: “I think it’s always good to have a good start into the New Year and today the record turnover is something which was far beyond what we could expect.
“I think it’s a wonderful, great start into the New Year and hopefully with the reduction of the number of positive COVID-19 cases that can, in a way, have more fans coming because the only thing we missed today was our racing fans and that’s, in a way.
“We would like to thank them for the tremendous support they showed and hopefully we can really welcome them back here at the track – so I’m optimistic for the Year of the Ox – we are strong, we are persistent and we standing for excellence and success.”
Wellington claims bonus and eyes future riches
Rising sprinter Wellington claimed a HK$1 million High Achievement Bonus by narrowly winning the Class 2 Fat Choi Handicap (1200m) for Richard Gibson and Zac Purton.
The bonus is available to owners of horses who win a Class 2 with a minimum rating of 80 before the age of five. Wellington, who improved his record to five wins from seven starts, was rated 90 pre-race.
“We were up against some very horses today – at one stage, it looked like he was going to win the race very easily and then he was tiring in the last 50 (metres) but it was still an excellent performance,” Gibson said after Wellington (127lb) denied a charging Duke Wai (125lb) by a short head.
“We always thought he would be better today, second-up in trip and getting some work into him – he’s been off for so long – he needs the work.”
Gibson makes no secret of his admiration of Wellington’s ability.
“These are the horses that get you out of bed in the morning,” he said. “You don’t need an alarm clock when you’ve got Wellington.
“He’s given me plenty of headaches along the way, but I’ve enjoyed the ride.”
Gibson said an FWD Champions Day start for Wellington was a “good possibility”.
Purton sealed a double in the last of 11 races aboard Super Football in the Class 3 Kung Hei Handicap (1600m) for Jimmy Ting to move to 61 winners for the 2020/21 season – 28 fewer than Joao Moreira, who is serving a two-meeting ban.
David Hayes counted his good fortune after Fantastic Treasure, originally a standby runner, capitalised brilliantly on being promoted into the field for the second section of the Class 4 Kut Cheong Handicap (1200m) to win on debut.
A son of Written Tycoon, the three-year-old was given an excellent ride by Chad Schofield, who described the gelding as having “nice attributes.”
“It was a nice win,” Schofield said. “He’s got good ability and he’s still learning – he should make a nice horse.”
Hayes, who said he had “strategically check-mated” himself with the number of young horses he has in his care, predicted the Australian import would develop into a “classy miler.”
“It’s great to win on any day, but to win for the owners – even from barrier 13 – at the Chinese New Year races is great,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of horses like this one – I’ve just got to be patient and let them develop.”
Hayes posted his first double since the season-opening fixture (6 September) when Master Montaro returned to form with strong victory in the Class 4 Great Profits Handicap (1400m) under Vincent Ho.
“First time at 1400m, blinkers off and Vincent rode him a treat,” Hayes said.
“He’s a bit of a slow learner, so I think he’ll get better with racing.
“I think he’ll go up in class – he won’t go crashing through with five wins in a row – but he’ll get there because he’s got the big engine and good constitution and I think he can run a mile, which is another string to his bow.”
Ho also landed a double when Decisive Twelve broke through to claim the first section of the Class 4 Kut Cheong Handicap (1200m).
Danny Shum also celebrated a brace with Dandy Years who won the Class 4 Lucky Star Handicap (1400m) and Decisive Action who scored in the Class 4 Prosperity Handicap (1600m), combining twice with Christophe Soumillon, who ended his Hong Kong stint in style.
Derek Leung continued his solid recent run of form as Kungfumaster Panda scored in the opener, the Class 5 Yue Yee Handicap (2000m).
Noble Man continued John Size’s challenge in the trainers’ championship by claiming the Class 5 Red Packet Handicap (1400m).
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday (17 February)