Peter Lau Pak-fai is on the ride of his life, and after seeing just how much a trip to a cold and wet Geelong excited the owner on Wednesday, it is hard to imagine the emotions he will be feeling at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
Lau was in his element as he watched Romantic Charm run fourth in a Benchmark 70 at Geelong, but things will ratchet up a few levels when his horse of a lifetime, Romantic Warrior, runs favourite in the Group One Cox Plate (2,040m).
“This is my first time ever to Australia, and first time ever in a racecourse here. The atmosphere is great,” Lau, who co-founded Japan Home Centre, said at Geelong on Wednesday.
“It means a lot to be. Whether he’s favourite or not is not important – it’s just about the chance of coming here, coming outside Hong Kong to race in such a big race. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an owner, and I’ll enjoy it.”
Not in his wildest dreams could Lau have dreamed up what Romantic Warrior has delivered him across his first 15 starts – a Hong Kong Derby victory and three Group One successes – and Cox Plate glory would be the sweetest success of all.
“I just cannot imagine how great it would be. It would be the first time in history a Hong Kong horse has won the Cox Plate, so it would mean a lot,” said Lau, who has a bar in his house dedicated to his superstar.
Romantic Warrior is looking to become only the second Hong Kong horse to salute in Australia – of 49 runners, Cape Of Good Hope’s 2005 Group One Australia Stakes (1,200m) success is the city’s only victory Down Under.
Three Hong Kong horses have tried and failed to win a Cox Plate – River Verdon, Elegant Fashion and Super Kid – and Romantic Warrior has had his fair share of challenges in the lead-up to Australasia’s unofficial weight-for-age championship.
Trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing has plundered overseas riches before, winning the 2012 Group One King’s Stand Stakes (1,000m) at Royal Ascot with Little Bridge, but even he could not have foreseen the hurdles his stable star has had to overcome.
After missing a pre-departure trial because of a typhoon, Romantic Warrior has had issues with his feed, and with the facilities at Werribee International Horse Centre not as comprehensive as what Shum has at his disposal in Hong Kong, he believes he only has the five-year-old 90-95 per cent fit.
That has not stopped punters from keeping Romantic Warrior steady at around $4 for his second Australian assignment – he was fourth in the Group One Turnbull Stakes (2,000m) at Flemington on October 7 – and he does have the benefit of one of the world’s best riders and the most successful gate in Cox Plate history.
“He’s come on nicely with nice improvement, so we’re hopeful,” said jockey James McDonald, who will partner the son of Acclamation from barrier seven.
Behind Romantic Warrior in the market are Alligator Blood, who is looking to snare his third Group One of the Australian spring, the Ben, Will and JD Hayes-trained Mr Brightside, Turnbull Stakes winner Gold Trip and Chris Waller-prepared pair Militarize and Fangirl, the latter of whom Zac Purton will ride.