By David Morgan
Tony Cruz has made the HK$10 million Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) his own in recent years, winning the last four on end, and on Sunday (28 May) the trainer will go to war with two likely candidates, chiefly Blazing Speed.
The Dylan Thomas gelding, now eight, carried off this prize in 2014 and last year the battling bay stretched out his white-blazed face to lift the Cup again, edging a three-way scramble by a short-head from Victory Magic and the re-opposing Werther.
Cruz is looking forward to Sunday’s seven-runner Group 1 and is confident that his charge is in peak form.
“Condition-wise, he’s looking very good, he’s as fit as he was last season,” Cruz said this morning (Friday, 26 May). “I hope it’s a good track; all he needs is a good to firm or good track - that would be perfect for him.”
And the trainer believes the British-bred has enough mettle to join Hong Kong legend Viva Pataca (2006, 2007, 2009) as an elite performing three-time winner of the season’s final G1 (Super Win and Silver Lining each notched three in the pre-Pattern race era): “He’s come out of his last race very well and I believe he’s the best horse in the field,” he declared.
Cruz has an enviable record in the historic test with three wins as a jockey (1983 & 1984 Co-Tack, 1995 Makarpura Star [dead-heat]) as well as that four-win torrent as a trainer, which commenced when California Memory broke the dam in 2013 and has continued with Helene Super Star’s 2015 triumph sandwiched between Blazing Speed’s brace.
Should Blazing Speed land the spoils again on Sunday, the admirable galloper would need to stick around for another year to take a chance at matching River Verdon’s all-time record of four wins (1991-1994) in the race. That is something that will be determined, it would seem, in Sunday’s aftermath, with reports circulating that owner Fentons Racing Syndicate is considering retirement options.
“There’s some discussion in the syndicate: if he wins this race, I’m sure he’ll stay here for next season, but if he runs second or third we’ll have to argue it,” Cruz said with a wry smile.
Blazing Speed has enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with jockey Neil Callan and the Irishman is itching to grab the reins again on Sunday after watching from the sidelines yesterday (Thursday) morning as his old friend worked in company with stablemate and Sunday’s rival Gold Mount. The pair clocked 21.4s for 400m on the all-weather, having broken from the starting gate.
“I watched his work with Tony and he just jumped out of the gates at the bottom of the straight,” Callan said. “He went with Gold Mount and he really stretched out well - by the time they hit the winning line he was getting through it strong, which you would expect of a horse of his calibre.”
Callan has been aboard Blazing Speed 22 times for four wins - both Champions & Chater Cup scores, as well as the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) in April, 2015 and the G2 LONGINES Jockey Club Cup (2000m) five months prior.
“He looks well, he’s moving well and he’s very straightforward in terms of how you ride him,” he said. “He just jumps and sits where he’s comfortable. It’s a small field - it’s going to come down to who gets the best run, but he’s in great form, he’s been running well all year.”
As well as the Cruz duo, the select field features five from the powerful John Moore stable. G1 winners Eagle Way and Helene Charisma ran first and second in the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap at the course and distance last start, with Gold Mount a running-on third, while Basic Trilogy and Horse of the Year title-winners Designs On Rome and Werther will also line up.
Callan is wary of the Hugh Bowman-ridden Werther, above all others. The dual G1 winner was a shade in front of fourth-placed Blazing Speed when third in last month’s APQEII Cup.
“Werther’s the one to beat, for me,” he said. “He had a bit of a setback last time when he was a very close third in the QEII Cup - I pulled-up upsides him that day and he gave a few coughs, so to still run the race he did not being 100 percent, that tells me he’s the one to beat.”
The Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, the last leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown series, is due off at 4.05pm on Sunday. The 10-race card, which commences at 12.30pm with the Class 3 Precision Handicap (2000m), also features the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) at 4.40pm, a race that has attracted a high-class field of runners, including G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) second Mr Stunning.
Blazing Speed (orange) wins a three-way battle with Victory Magic (No.6) and Werther (yellow) to take the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup for a second time last year.
Neil Callan and Tony Cruz celebrate Blazing Speed��s 2016 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup win.
Neil Callan celebrates as Blazing Speed lands his first Champions & Chater Cup success in 2014.