July 22, 2024

Hong Kong’s Romantic Warrior pads historic resume in BC WAYI Yasuda Kinen

Romantic Warrior with jockey James McDonald wins the Yasuda Kinen
Romantic Warrior with jockey James McDonald wins the Yasuda Kinen (Photo by Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)

Hong Kong champion Romantic Warrior had already established his credentials as a globetrotter by winning Australia’s prestigious Cox Plate (G1), but Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen (G1) at Tokyo confirmed his entry into the pantheon. Making a rare foray at a metric mile, a distance short of his best, the 2.60-1 favorite became just the fourth international to win the storied prize.

Romantic Warrior has spent the bulk of his career in the about 1 1/4-mile zone, most recently completing an unprecedented three-peat in the QEII Cup (G1) at Sha Tin. The Irish-bred had raced at this trip only twice before. Successful in the 2022 Hong Kong Classic Mile, the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Series, Romantic Warrior was beaten a length by fellow legend Golden Sixty in the 2023 Stewards’ Cup (G1) in his other attempt.

As trainer Danny Shum noted, the stiff homestretch at Tokyo makes for a greater test of stamina than the typical mile. Romantic Warrior relished it, emulating past Hong Kong shippers Fairy King Prawn (2000) and Bullish Luck (2006). The first international to plunder the Yasuda Kinen was Godolphin’s Heart Lake (1995).

Shum was himself involved in Fairy King Prawn’s victory, during his time as trainer Ivan Allan’s assistant.

“I’ve been lucky to be given a lot of experience from Ivan Allan and travel with his horses to the Yasuda Kinen and the Japan Cup in the past,” Shum said. “Romantic Warrior’s best distance is 2,000 meters but in Hong Kong, the straight is 400 meters, where in Tokyo it’s 525, and the hill goes up at 350 meters and down and flat at 250, so you need a horse that can handle 1,800 meters at Tokyo.”

For the same reason, it’s questionable whether Romantic Warrior would pursue the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) “Win and You’re In” perk that he earned in the Yasuda Kinen; a two-turn mile at Del Mar likely wouldn’t be his target of choice.

With regular rider James McDonald aboard, Romantic Warrior broke alertly and secured a good position covered up within hailing distance of the early leaders. Up front, Dobune was pressed by Win Carnelian until the stretch. Although Win Carnelian briefly took over, he was soon passed by the stalking Fierce Pride.

That move actually helped Romantic Warrior, who had been trapped behind Fierce Pride for a few strides. McDonald gave him the cue once they saw daylight, and the Acclamation gelding stormed to the fore. Namur and Soul Rush flew from far back, but there was no catching the redoubtable Romantic Warrior.

Still a half-length on top at the wire, Romantic Warrior negotiated the metric mile on a good course in 1:32.3. Namur clocked the fastest final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :32.9, compared to Romantic Warrior’s :33.4, and snatched second by a nose from Soul Rush.

Gaia Force got up for fourth, followed by Serifos, last year’s runner-up, who finished in :33.0 to take fifth. Next came Geoglyph; Fierce Pride; Elton Barows; Stella Veloce; Air Lolonois; Red Mon Reve; Corepetiteur; Parallel Vision; Win Carnelian; Danon Scorpion; Catedral; Hong Kong’s other hope, Voyage Bubble, who didn’t handle going left-handed, according to jockey Zac Purton; and Dobune.

“I had been working on finding the right horse to bring here to race in Japan,” Romantic Warrior’s owner Peter Lau said, “so it was really exciting and a happy moment. I have had connections with Japan both in business and also within the racing circle, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to race here this time. The racing track here is wide and very fair and beautiful.

“I had heard from my friends in Hong Kong about the big fan base in Japan, but it was even more than I expected, and I feel that they are very enthusiastic.”

McDonald also commented on the Japanese fans.

“I’m just extremely proud, very honored to be traveling with such a good horse and to showcase him to such passionate racing fans,” the winning rider said.

“The race went perfectly as planned—we had a plan of being in the first half of the field—he enabled us to sit in a very comfortable position throughout. Before the start he was a bit fresh and above himself, so I felt that he was definitely on the job and as always, he was there when I asked him for a supreme effort.

“Once he hit the front with 200 meters to run, it was going to have to be a good horse to go past him because there’s not many who can go past him when he’s in full flight with a furlong to go.”

Shum credited McDonald for his acumen as well as his superb relationship with the champion.

“I have a world-class jockey, James McDonald – he’s the champion jockey at the moment, and I have every confidence in him,” the horseman said. “He loves Romantic Warrior and Romantic Warrior loves him—he does his best for him.”

James McDonald celebrates after Romantic Warrior’s victory in the Yasuda Kinen (Photo by Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)

Romantic Warrior boasts a record of 20-15-3-0, and his bankroll of HK$151 million is closing in on Golden Sixty’s record of HK$167 million. The winner of the 2022 Hong Kong Derby, he has also captured the past two editions of the Hong Kong Cup (G1) on International Races Day in December, the Feb. 25 Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1), and the aforementioned QEII Cup for the third time April 28.

Ever since his gutsy victory in the Oct. 28 Cox Plate, Romantic Warrior has been prevailing in tight finishes. The Yasuda Kinen was the most comfortable score of his current five-race streak.

“He’s a proven champion,” McDonald said. “He’s won one of the toughest races in Australia in the Cox Plate, he’s won two Hong Kong Cups taking on strong opposition, and now has come to Japan and won a mile race, a little bit shorter than his best distance.

“He always rises to the occasion and that’s the beauty of this horse, he’s got a heart of a lion and tremendous ability.”

Precisely because of Romantic Warrior’s determination on display at home and abroad, the six-year-old has earned a vacation. Shum revealed that he won’t press on to the June 23 Takarazuka Kinen (G1).

Bred by Corduff Stud and T.J. Rooney, Romantic Warrior is out of Folk Melody, a daughter of Street Cry and 2008 E.P. Taylor (G1) heroine Folk Opera.