May 28, 2023

Romantic Warrior raises historic profile in Hong Kong Cup romp

Romantic Warrior ran off by a stakes-record margin in the Hong Kong Cup (Photo by Hong Kong Jockey Club)

By demolishing an international cast in Sunday’s Hong Kong Cup (G1), Romantic Warrior completed a rare treble at Sha Tin. The reigning Hong Kong Derby and Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) hero etched his name alongside legends Vengeance of Rain (2005) and Designs on Rome (2014), who likewise made it a hat trick in the same year’s Hong Kong Cup.

Now Romantic Warrior, nearly perfect with a 9-for-10 career record, could pursue even more Hong Kong history, according to trainer Danny Shum.

“His owner Peter Lau said, ‘Danny if we win this race we should target the Hong Kong Triple Crown over 1600 meters, 2000 meters, and 2400 meters,” Shum revealed.

If Romantic Warrior can sweep the Jan. 29 Stewards’ Cup (G1) over the metric mile, the Feb. 26 Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1) at this about 1 1/4-mile trip, and the May 28 Champions & Chater Cup (G1), he would emulate River Verdon (1994), Hong Kong’s only Triple Crown winner.

Romantic Warrior was favored to repel a stout Japanese challenge at Sha Tin on Sunday, but few could have envisioned the magnitude of his victory. Well handled by James McDonald, the Irish-bred son of Acclamation settled just about midpack on the outside before cruising into contention.

Although Japan’s Panthalassa took up his customary spot on the front end, he didn’t blast off as expected. He was slowly away, then scrambled to make the lead, and never established much separation. Indeed, Ka Ying Star was able to attend closely and even challenge briefly in upper stretch, along with Money Catcher.

The handwriting was on the wall, however, as Romantic Warrior was just breezing up to them. Putting the race away decisively, he drew off by an imperious 4 1/2 lengths – a stakes-record margin, as reported by Graham Cunningham – in a final time of 1:59.70.

Japan’s winning streak in this race was thus ended, but Danon the Kid represented his homeland honorably as best of the rest. Locally-based Money Catcher, Tourbillon Diamond, and Russian Emperor rounded out the top five in an outstanding result for Hong Kong. Geoglyph, Jack d’Or, Ka Ying Star, Lei Papale, Panthalassa, Order of Australia, and Savvy Nine concluded the order under the wire.

Romantic Warrior received a form boost one race prior, as familiar rival California Spangle toppled Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Mile (G1). California Spangle won the only race that Romantic Warrior lost, the Hong Kong Classic Cup, where he was fourth from a wide post. Victorious in the other two legs of the Four-Year-Old Series, Romantic Warrior collared California Spangle in the Hong Kong Classic Mile and Hong Kong Derby.

The two subsequently went their separate ways, at different trips. Romantic Warrior stuck to about 1 1/4 miles to lift the QE II Cup, and returned over the same course and distance in the Nov. 20 Jockey Club Cup (G2). The Hong Kong Cup has put him in a different league.

“I didn’t think he’d win like that,” McDonald said, “but the quality of this horse is amazing. His turn of foot is incredible. He has everything a good horse should have and he has it in spades.

“This horse has a lot of great attributes, but his greatest is that he’s so adaptable at taking a position.

“I promise you, that was really as good as it looked,” the winning rider added. “He was perfect from start to finish today, and he’s right up there with any of the other really good ones I’ve ridden, don’t worry about that.”

“His confidence keeps increasing,” Shum said, “but ever since I saw him at the (Hong Kong) International Sale (where he was purchased for HK$4.8 million), he has been so professional and calm in everything he does. It has been an amazing effort by my team, and I think this must be the most memorable day of my career.”

Romantic Warrior promises to give Shum more memorable days ahead. Bred by Corduff Stud and T.J. Rooney, the four-year-old gelding is out of Folk Melody, a daughter of Street Cry and Grade 1 heroine Folk Opera.