July 25, 2024

California Spangle denies Golden Sixty in Hong Kong Mile

California Spangle holds off two-time defending champ Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Mile (Photo by Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Golden Sixty’s attempt at a record-equaling third Hong Kong Mile (G1) was foiled by younger foe California Spangle, in what might portend a changing of the guard. Run down by Golden Sixty in both prior meetings, the four-year-old turned the tables for the all-time leading trainer and jockey in Hong Kong International Races history, Tony Cruz and Zac Purton.

“I’m very proud of the horse,” said Cruz, who boasts a record 11 HKIR wins as a trainer (in addition to one as a jockey). “I expected him to win (Hong Kong) International Races one day and lucky I have Zac with me. Zac rode the perfect race today.

“We planned the tactics and how to ride the race, but everything can change in seconds, and somehow it turned out to be so fantastic.”

California Spangle represented the main threat to Golden Sixty, both on form and his forward style that assured him of getting the jump on the favorite. Beaten two lengths by Golden Sixty in the Apr. 24 Champions Mile (G1), he was just nabbed by a neck in the Nov. 20 Jockey Club Mile (G2). The margin was shrinking, but Golden Sixty was likely to improve off that comeback.

Thus a new variable was needed to change the equation at Sha Tin. As California Spangle strode forward through a tepid opening quarter, Golden Sixty appeared ominously within striking range already. But the complexion changed approaching the halfway mark, when Cruz’s other runner, Beauty Joy, burst from midpack and injected pace. As Beauty Joy surged past him into the lead, an unfazed California Spangle continued to travel comfortably in second.

Golden Sixty, on the other hand, suddenly found himself a few lengths further back. That increased deficit turned out to be decisive. The two-time champ quickened in a field-best final sectional of :22.98, but the damage was done.

California Spangle tackled Beauty Joy down the lane and forged clear. Golden Sixty was gaining, his momentum drawing him ever nearer, as he tried to emulate Good Ba Ba’s three-peat (2007-09). Yet that historic milestone receded from his grasp, with California Spangle holding in by a neck in 1:33.41.

As an indication of how it paid to race handy, Australian shipper Laws of Indices excelled himself by running an even third. Beauty Joy retreated to fourth following his daring bid. Next came More Than This, Danon Scorpion, Excellent Proposal, Waikuku, and the too-bad-to-be-true Schnell Meister. Salios was scratched.

“It was pretty straightforward early,” said Purton, who extended his grip on the HKIR record book with his 10th win in the saddle. “Tony pre-race asked me if I could just let the horse roll along a little bit more than we did last time. He’s a lot more relaxed this season and he kept coming back underneath me. I kept trying to click him along but he was waiting for the other horses, I think we’ve seen today that he is a little bit versatile.

“When Beauty Joy came around him, he was happy to let him go, and it helped him think about what was going on. He got into a lovely rhythm in behind and wanted to chase him.

“Then when he got clear of him he wanted to wait a little bit which was a worrying time for me when I could feel Golden Sixty breathing down my neck again. Today I thought he had me at the 200 (meter-mark), and then at the 100 (meter-mark) I thought, ‘he hasn’t quite got me yet.’ We kept trying and we were lucky to get the result today.”

California Spangle was advertising the strength of this year’s Four-Year-Old Series. The Irish-bred’s victory in the Hong Kong Classic Cup was bookended by excellent seconds in the Hong Kong Classic Mile and Hong Kong Derby to Romantic Warrior, who crushed Sunday’s Hong Kong Cup (G1). The son of Starspangledbanner had won both starts of the new Hong Kong season, the Sept. 25 Celebration Cup H. (G3) and Oct. 16 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (G2), before missing to Golden Sixty in the last local tune-up. His scorecard now stands at 14-9-5-0.

“California Spangle is a rising horse,” Cruz said, “and with Golden Sixty, age has come to catch up with him. I think this is where we got the advantage.

“Young horses like California Spangle can improve his character in time. It’s easy to train a horse to get fit, but it’s how you train a horse in his mind. That is the hardest bit of it.

“I believe Spangle’s racing mind is turning more professional, and he’s getting better all the time. Obviously when you have a great jockey like Zac, you don’t make mistakes anymore.”

Purton noted that California Spangle isn’t a specialist miler either.

“He’s shown right throughout his career he’s a horse that deserves to be in the top echelon,” the ace rider said. “It took Golden Sixty to beat him last time, and I think Golden Sixty is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and there’s no disgrace in that.

“Every run he’s had, he’s put in. He’s a phenomenal horse and he’s versatile. He’s won over 1000 (meters), 1200, 1600, 1800 and just got beat over 2000 (in the Hong Kong Derby). Not many horses can do that.”

Bred by M. Enright in the Emerald Isle, California Spangle is out of the High Chaparral mare Pearlitas Passion, who is also responsible for multiple stakes-placed Wychwood Warrior. He descends from the productive tribe of Basilea, ancestress of up-and-coming multiple Group 3 hero Alflaila.