Hong Kong’s Champions Day lives up to its name

By Richard Edmunds

4 May 2023

Hong Kong’s Champions Day lives up to its nameLucky Sweynesse (Zac Purton) cements his place at the top of world sprinting ranks as he strides to

New Zealand has wielded a significant influence over Hong Kong’s Champions Day in recent seasons, and that tradition continued in a spectacular 2023 edition at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The triple Group One meeting even featured a modern day rarity, a Kiwi-trained runner in Aegon, who finished a close and creditable fifth in the Champions Mile for Andrew Forsman and jockey James McDonald. However, the brightest stars were a pair of local powerhouses who were both bought out of New Zealand Bloodstock’s Ready to Run Sale at Karaka.
The first of those was the rising superstar New Zealand-bred Lucky Sweynesse, who has been the world’s highest-rated sprinter through the first four months of 2023.
The Sweynesse gelding dominated the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, joining previous winners Beat The Clock (2019) and Mr Stunning (2020) in providing a distinctly Karaka flavour to the recent roll of honour in the 1200-metre showpiece.
This has been a spectacular coming-of-age season for Lucky Sweynesse, who was bred by Novara Park principal Luigi Muollo in partnership with Allan Sharrock and Paul Dombroski. He has lined up in nine races since early September, winning seven of them including all of his last five succession.
The four-year-old was a luckless sixth in the Gr. 1 Hong Kong Sprint in December, but since then he has turned Hong Kong’s sprinting ranks into a one-act affair. He has strung together super-impressive victories in the Gr. 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup, the Gr. 1 Centenary Sprint Cup, the Gr. 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, the Gr. 2 Sprint Cup and Sunday’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
With his Group One treble in the Sprint Cup, Jubilee Cup and Sunday’s big event, Lucky Sweynesse completed a clean sweep of the Hong Kong Speed Series. Only three other horses have achieved that feat – Mr Vitality (1994-95), Grand Delight (2002-03) and the great Silent Witness (2003-04 and 2004-05).
The Chairman’s Sprint Prize was arguably Lucky Sweynesse’s most impressive performance yet as he and champion Hong Kong jockey Zac Purton put their rivals to the sword. After making an unusually slick beginning, Lucky Sweynesse was poised to challenge at the Sha Tin straight, opening up a winning margin of three and a quarter lengths and stopping the clock at 1:08.38.
“I feel like we’re going to see a better horse again next season,” jockey Zac Purton said. “The sky is the limit at the moment.”
Lucky Sweynesse was a $90,000 purchase from Woburn Farm’s draft at the 2020 Ready to Run Sale. His 16-start career has so far produced 12 wins, three placings and prize-money of HK$43.38 million – the equivalent of around NZ$9 million.
Adding to the New Zealand flavour of this year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize – and emphasising the offshore sprint achievements by horses bred in this country – second place went to fellow Kiwi-bred Courier Wonder. Bred and sold by Waikato Stud, he is by Sacred Falls and is a full-brother to the Australian Group One winner Icebath.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s Champions Mile marked the fifth time in the last six years that the prestigious race has been won by a horse either bred or sold in New Zealand. Champion racehorse Golden Sixty scored his third consecutive win in the race, which had previously been won by the Kiwi-bred Beauty Generation in 2018 and 2019.
This year’s Champions Mile was a defining moment for Golden Sixty, who set a new all-time record for Group One victories in Hong Kong. He went into the race equal with Beauty Generation on eight, but he is now the only horse in the history of Hong Kong racing to record nine victories at the elite level.
The son of Medaglia d’Oro is a graduate of the 2017 Ready to Run Sale, where he was offered by Sam Beatson’s Riversley Park and was bought for $300,000. He has had 29 starts for 25 wins, three placings and a whopping HK$147.9 million in stakes – the equivalent of more than NZ$30 million.
“All of the credit goes to Golden Sixty; I’m nothing without him,” said jockey Vincent Ho, who spent 12 months of his apprenticeship in New Zealand with Wexford Stables a dozen or so years ago.
“It’s always my honour to be on him. I’m happy for the horse and happy for the crowds that come to support him. He’s just an amazing horse. He’s going as well as ever. There’s no sign of him dropping in performance.”
Sunday’s other Group One feature, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, went the way of Irish-bred star Romantic Warrior, who was ridden by James McDonald in a facile repeat of his 2022 win.