By J. Keeler Johnson
Continuing the "handicapping
around the world" theme we started last week, let's turn our attention this
Sunday to the FWD Champions Day card at Sha Tin in Hong Kong, which features a
trio of competitive Group 1 races.
Most eyes will be focused on
Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year Beauty
Generation, who figures to start as the favorite in the FWD Champions Mile (G1). But we'll focus
on the other two Group 1 events plus a Class 3 handicap that has drawn a
Let's dig in!
Race 5: Chairman's Sprint Prize (G1, 1,200 meters)
#7 Voyage Warrior enters
with the best recent form, having led all the way to nab an upset victory in
the Sprint Cup (G2) over this course and distance on Apr. 5. But the Sprint Cup
unfolded at a slow pace when favored #11
Aethero—normally a front-runner—got squeezed at the start, forcing him to
race off the pace while buried behind horses. Aethero never fired, and Voyage
Warrior cruised home on top in a race largely dominated by speed horses.
A different story figures to
unfold on Sunday. Aethero is back and figures to be sharper in his second start
of 2020, ensuring a contested pace. Three starts back, Aethero won the
1,200-meter Jockey Club Sprint (G2) by two lengths, leading all the way to
record a blazing final time of 1:07.58 that missed the overall course record by
just 0.08. A repeat of this effort would be sufficient to land Aethero in the
But I'm going to think a little
outside the box and favor #2 Thanks
Forever, conditioned by legendary trainer John Moore. Thanks Forever never
had a fair chance to win the Sprint Cup, attempting to rally from behind the slow
pace while racing wide without much cover. Yet the 4-year-old gelding showed
resilience down the homestretch, battling on to finish third by just 1 1/4
Thanks Forever showed he can
compete at this level when employing pace-setting tactics to finish second by a
head in the Jan. 19 Centenary Sprint Cup (G1). He's drawn post 11 for the
Chairman's Sprint Cup, which isn't ideal, but my hope is to see Thanks Forever take
back and make one late run. If a hot pace unfolds on Sunday—and it certainly
should—Thanks Forever can be the one to capitalize at a nice price.
Race 6: Vengeance of Rain Handicap (Class 3, 1,400
The undefeated #1 Wellington possesses a wicked
turn-of-foot, which has enabled the 3-year-old son of All Too Hard to compile a
perfect 3-for-3 record sprinting 1,200 meters at Sha Tin this winter.
Wellington debuted in a
Class 4 handicap on Jan. 27 and proved ton the best, settling in mid-pack before
sprinting the final two 400-meter sectionals in :22.59 and :22.22 to win going
away by three lengths. Stepping up to Class 3 company on Feb. 16 proved to be
no obstacle, as he again produced terrific finishing fractions (:22.34 and
:22.82) to gain seven lengths in the stretch and win by a neck.
For his most recent victory
on Mar. 22, Wellington partnered with Hong Kong's reigning champion jockey Zac
Purton for the first time and produced his strongest finish to date. Racing
over a quick course, Wellington blazed home in :22.19 and :22.04 to win by a
length in 1:08.55, far quicker than the class standard of 1:09.25 and just 0.23
shy of the course-and-class record (1:08.32) held by Aethero.
Purton will retain the mount
for Sunday's race, and while Wellington is picking up 10 pounds off his last
victory (toting top weight of 133 pounds), sticking to Class 3 company and
stretching out over 1,400 meters should make him tough to beat. With anything
resembling a clean trip, Wellington should land in the winner's circle once
For the exotics, I recommend
playing #10 Fantastic Show and #3 Beauty Smile, who were separated by
a neck when running 1-2 over this
course, class, and distance two weeks ago. Fantastic Show has won three
straight races under Hong Kong's current leading jockey Joao Moreira, while
Beauty Smile—Group 3-placed as a 2-year-old in Ireland—could show improvement
in his second local run.
Race 8: FWD QEII Cup (G1, 2,000 meters)
The consistent 6-year-old #1 Exultant hasn't missed the trifecta
in his last 11 starts while scoring six group stakes victories, including three
at the highest level. But I was a little disappointed by Exultant's effort in
the 2,000-meter Citi Hong King Gold Cup (G1) on Feb. 16 at Sha Tin. After dropping farther off the lead than
usual in a slow-paced race, Exultant produced only a mild burst of speed down
the homestretch, finishing in :23.63 to claim second place behind front-running
winner #2 Time Warp.
Actually, Exultant has
seemed a step slower across the board this season, suffering three defeats
while favored at short prices. There isn't much speed at all in the FWD QEII Cup
field, with Time Warp the only clear front-runner on paper, and I wonder if
Exultant might prove vulnerable again at low odds.
Rather than back Exultant to
win, I'll take a shot with the improving #6
Playa Del Puente. Trainer Danny Shum perfectly prepared the Irish-bred 4-year-old
for a peak effort in the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin on Mar. 22, and
Playa Del Puente responded with a career-best effort. Somehow disregarded at
odds of 290-1, Playa Del Puente rated at the back of the pack early on before
unleashing a ridiculous rally on the far turn, passing the entire field in the
span of about 12 seconds while racing widest of all.
It was an extraordinary move,
jaw-dropping in nature, and Playa Del Puente continued to defy logic by
sustaining his run down the homestretch. Clear by nearly three lengths early in
the lane, Playa Del Puente would have been an easy winner if not for the
conservatively-ridden Golden Sixty, who produced a perfectly-timed rally to prevail
by a neck and complete a sweep of Hong Kong's Triple Crown.
But Playa Del Puente
deserves plenty of credit for sprinting the final two 400-meter sectionals in
:22.83 and :22.67, which nearly carried him to the winner's circle. A repeat of
this effort on Sunday will give Playa Del Puente a live chance to upset his
older rivals and secure a signature Group 1 victory.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like this week?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.