G1 Stewards’ Cup shapes to live up to huge pre-race billing

Accustomed to elite success at home and abroad, Danny Shum believes the blockbuster G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) clash between Hong Kong’s three top-rated horses – Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and California Spangle – at Sha Tin this Sunday (29 January) is the “most exciting race” in 30 years.

James McDonald waves to the crowd, after ROMANTIC WARRIOR winning the THE LONGINES HONG KONG CUP
James McDonald waves to the crowd, after ROMANTIC WARRIOR winning the THE LONGINES HONG KONG CUP Picture: HKJC

Shum will saddle Romantic Warrior as last month's dominant G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) winner bids for a 10th victory from 11 starts and figures in a first-time meeting with Golden Sixty (22 wins from 26 starts) and also a renewal of a burgeoning rivalry with California Spangle (nine wins from 14 starts).

Pointing to the trio's lofty ratings – Golden Sixty  (130), Romantic Warrior (130) and California Spangle  (129) – as well as the threesome's imposing G1 haul – Golden Sixty (six), Romantic Warrior (two) and California Spangle (one) - Shum says Sunday's contest is a rare meeting of three outstanding horses at their peaks.

"This is the first time I've ever been involved in a race like this and I'm really excited," Shum said.

"It's a world-class race. I don't think it's a race just for the Hong Kong followers – it's a global race. In the last 30 years, this is the most exciting race – even though it's a small field."

Underscoring the quality of Sunday's field is the presence of three other G1 winners – Waikuku, who will be ridden by Ryan Moore, Russian Emperor (Harry Bentley) and Panfield (Antoine Hamelin) as well as the enigmatic Beauty Joy (Hugh Bowman).

Involved in Hong Kong racing for more than 40 years, Shum, 62, has achieved great success in Hong Kong and also overseas, notably with Little Bridge in the 2012 G1 King's Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot.

At home, Romantic Warrior's victories last year in the G1 FWD QEII Cup, LONGINES Hong Kong Cup and BMW Hong Kong Derby – all over 2000m – are included in Shum's excellent training portfolio, along with Scintillation's G1 Centenary Sprint Cup successes in 2006 and 2007 and Seasons Bloom's 2018 Stewards' Cup triumph.

Buoyed by Romantic Warrior's trackwork since the Hong Kong International Sale graduate's stunning annihilation of world-class opposition, Shum is optimistic his stable star can extend an imposing strike rate.

"We have some confidence. It's not a big field – just seven horses – so the horse can stay behind California Spangle and we have some confidence that we can beat him," he said. "I'm really confident in the horse - he's in really good form, so I have confidence in him."

Romantic Warrior's only defeat came in the 2022 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) when the Acclamation gelding finished fourth after covering ground behind California Spangle, the recipient of an inspired Zac Purton ride.

Purton boldly subsequently used the tactics in the BMW Hong Kong Derby and failed by only a head as the outstanding talents duelled ferociously down Sha Tin's straight.

This Sunday marks Karis Teetan's race-day reunion with Romantic Warrior after illness-related issues saw the Mauritian sidelined as New Zealander James McDonald partnered Romantic Warrior to victory in the G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m) on 20 November and also to a race record four and a half length romp in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup on 11 December.

"I promised Karis the ride. He rides the horse every morning. He does a great job with the horse and I really want him to win on the horse," Shum said, acknowledging McDonald's return to Sha Tin at the weekend to partner Tony Cruz's Beautyverse in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m).

Romantic Warrior steps from gate four on Sunday, while Purton and California Spangle depart from barrier three with Golden Sixty and Vincent Ho in gate two.

Beauty Joy has the inside alley, with Waikuku in barrier five and stayers Panfield (six) and Russian Emperor (seven) completing the line-up.

Sunday's (29 January) Sha Tin meeting starts with the Class 5 Giant Treasure Handicap (1650m, dirt) at 1pm.

Hong Kong Jockey Club