It might not quite be the “race of the decade” like last weekend’s Stewards’ Cup, but Sunday’s Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,200m) is not far behind in terms of significance.
Wellington has the opportunity to enter some rare air by adding a Centenary Sprint Cup to his victories in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (2021 and 2022), Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (2022) and Hong Kong Sprint (2022).
If Richard Gibson’s six-year-old salutes, he will join Silent Witness as the only horse to win Hong Kong’s four Group One contests run over less than a mile.
Like the great Silent Witness – who holds the record for most consecutive Hong Kong wins at 17 – did nearly two decades ago, Wellington will hold all four races at the same time if he triumphs this weekend.
Shifting focus to more recent times, Wellington is looking to do what the John Size-trained Beat The Clock did in 2019 and win the city’s three premier 1,200m races in succession.
The only galloper who could manage that feat between Silent Witness in 2004 and Beat The Clock three years ago was Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s superstar Sacred Kingdom.
There is perhaps even more significance riding on the performance of Lucky Sweynesse, who
is a $1.70 favourite in overseas fixed-odds markets ahead of Wellington at $3.50.
Lucky Sweynesse is chasing a first Group One for himself and handler Manfred Man Ka-leung, who is facing compulsory retirement at the end of the season.
While Man does not meet Jockey Club criteria for an extension past 65, he is hopeful a career-best campaign – he is on track to better his previous mark of 43 wins – and a elite-level victory from a sprinter who is already the city’s fifth highest-rated galloper will strengthen his case for a reprieve.
Lucky Sweynesse was an unlucky sixth behind Wellington in December’s Hong Kong Sprint, spending a considerable amount of the home straight boxed in on the rail and getting out far too late to have an impact on the race.
Whether Lucky Sweynesse can beat Wellington at level weights remains to be seen, but this
race could well be the four-year-old’s best chance of bagging what could prove to be a vital Group One win.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup and Chairman’s Sprint Prize look likely future targets for Lucky Sweynesse this term, but there is no time like the present and the Centenary Sprint Cup could well turn out to be the most winnable of the gelding’s top-level pursuits in 2022-23.
When you consider California Spangle and maybe even Golden Sixty could be standing in his way in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, and it is very much unknown which international gallopers could converge on Champions Day in April, if Lucky Sweynesse wants to be trained by Man next season he could be well advised to get the runs on the board this weekend.
Man will no doubt be aware of the significance of Sunday’s clash, but he remains relaxed in the knowledge he could not have Lucky Sweynesse any more ready for a race the veteran handler has won twice before. However, Eagle Regiment’s victories in 2012 and 2013 came before the Centenary Sprint Cup was an international Group One.
“He’s on fire. In my mind, his form will keep on improving – he has kept his standard,” Man said.
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