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Aethero, Waikuku failures muddy Champions Day waters, but star pair can be forgiven

The gun sprinter and Group One-winning miler will still have a huge say in what looks certain to be an all-Hong Kong affair

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FWD Champions Day is now less than three weeks away, but how much can we take out of Sunday’s Group Twos? The odds-on favourites – Waikuku and Aethero – both finished at the tail of their respective fields, the old champ Beauty Generation found a way to win again and one-time boom sprinter Voyage Warrior produced his best in a muddling affair. The first thing to clarify is the status of any potential international raiders in this coronavirus-crazed environment.

“With the two-week quarantine rule, it is highly unlikely, but we have to keep it as open as we can,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said on Sunday. Given stablehands would need to be in quarantine now to service any visiting horses in the lead-up to the race, we will go a step further and rule them out. It will be an all-Hong Kong affair.

So let’s have a look at how things stack up for April 26. The market suggested Sunday’s Sprint Cup was basically a two-horse race between Aethero and Hot King Prawn, but that’s not how it panned out.

Aethero missed the kick, copped a whack, then charged and over-raced badly, before dropping out. It was a carbon copy of what he did first-up before crushing his rivals in his following two starts.

Hot King Prawn finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, but he also pulled a little during the middle stages and was held up for clear running for the first 100m of the straight. Having said that, he had his chance and couldn’t catch the runaway Voyage Warrior, who ran the slowest opening 400m of the four 1,200m races on the day. Given the circumstances, it’s tough to put a line through Aethero and Hot King Prawn. The former being the most exciting (and talented) sprinter Hong Kong and the latter the most consistent now Beat The Clock is enjoying a break. Aethero’s performance was deemed unacceptable by stewards so he will need to trial again and even though he looks to a be a one-trick pony at this stage of his career (he is still only three), jockey Zac Purton is keeping the faith.

“It was just a mess and I can’t explain why he missed the start because he was standing up really well – I actually thought it was the best he’s ever stood in the gates,” Purton said. “It was a replica of what he did first-up this season and he bounced back off that so I’m sure he can bounce back again – we’ve just got to get him out of the gate.” It was great to see Voyage Warrior win a big race after showing so much potential last season, but everything went his way while Thanks Forever also ran pretty well after being trapped wide without cover. Going forward, if Aethero jumps and dictates, he is the one to beat in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize while the reliable Hot King Prawn remains the main danger. It will basically be the same horses going around again and it’s hard to see those circumstances unfolding in the same manner.

In the Chairman’s Trophy, the biggest shock was the flop of Waikuku – it was too bad to be true. The Group One winner gave ground like something was wrong but the post-race veterinary exam found nothing. Trainer John Size suggested maybe his two previous runs had taken more out of him than he thought while the 11 weeks between starts could have also been an issue. Beauty Generation showed that despite growing longer in the tooth, he is still a class above most. “He’s a different horse these days, he’s so much more relaxed in everything that he does,” Purton said. “He doesn’t go out there with the same aggression that he was last season. He just seems to take it in his stride and enjoy it a bit more.

“He’s just doing what he has to do at the moment. It’s nice to see him getting a couple of wins on the board at the end of his career. “I’m sure Waikuku is better than what he showed. It’s not going to be easy [in the Champions Mile], but we’ll give it a crack.” The only potential wild card that could come into play for the Champions Mile is Hong Kong Derby hero Golden Sixty, with Francis Lui Kin-wai to decide this week if he will take part. He’s won all seven of his races this season and Beauty Generation’s trainer John Moore admits he is a real danger.

“I’m worried – Golden Sixty is an exceptional racehorse on the up,” he said. “He’s got age on his side. He hits the line seriously strongly. It makes for a great race on the 26th and that’s what the Hong Kong racing public and the world want to see – people to try and take on Beauty Generation. “He’s the new boy on the block – now he’s got to do it, but I would have to say he puts a bit of fright into the team.” Sunday’s meeting might have muddied the waters for Champions Day a little, but in the circumstances, it is probably best to forgive Sunday’s disappointments. They were odds-on favourites for a reason.

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