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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
The Prophet of Probability is already excited about next month’s Stewards’ Cup, the ‘decider’ between California Spangle and Golden Sixty.
Back in the early 1970s two champion boxers fought out a timeless trilogy.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had one of the greatest sporting rivalries ever known, they fought three colossal battles culminating in ‘the Thriller in Manila’ where the victor would be crowned the champion.
On Sunday we witnessed another epic battle between California Spangle and Golden Sixty. This was the second match this season with Golden Sixty taking the spoils in Round 1, and seemingly holding all the cards prior to this event.
The Prophet claimed in a previous article that California Spangle looked like he may not have the ammunition to curtail the great 60. Zac Purton had ridden an almost perfect race last start but still came up short.
But all it takes is for either of these equine champions – or their jockeys – to be slightly off their game and the result can be different. And so it was, in my opinion, on Sunday, and the result turned.
With 400 metres to go in the Longines Hong Kong Mile, the situation looked remarkably similar to the previous bout. The margin from California Spangle to Golden Sixty, was two lengths, last time it was one and a half lengths. Of course, this time California Spangle wasn’t leading. He was chasing his erratic stablemate, Beauty Joy, who Hugh Bowman had chased to the front at the 800m mark despite the pace already being above average. Still, to my eye Golden Sixty was close enough and the result looked a formality.
By the 300m I wasn’t so sure and the vigour with which Vincent Ho had begun to thrust upon his mount showed he was getting concerned as well. With 200m to travel, it looked a forlorn hope, but this is, after all, Golden Sixty, and his will to win brought him close, but it was not enough with a neck to the favour of the younger horse on the line.
After the race, I couldn’t help but think Golden Sixty had not run up to his brilliant sprint of the first contest. Each meeting a racetrack will race slightly different from the last, which means we cannot compare times from one race directly to another. We must first take into account the track speed on the day.
To my calculations Golden Sixty has finished the last 400m about 0.04s slower than the previous race. This equates to somewhere between a head and a neck, the official margin. I believe California Spangle has run up to the level of the previous race and Golden Sixty has performed a fraction below.
Golden Sixty was second-up, and as a seven-year-old might just have felt the first-up run a little more than expected. California Spangle is a four-year-old and had two runs prior to the first battle of the titans. That could have been the difference.
A neck was all that separated California Spangle and Golden Sixty on Sunday. (Photo: HKJC)
Previously, professionals and amateurs alike had questioned Golden Sixty’s ability to rate a truly high figure and the winning margins on many of his victories left more questions than answers, but he had always been able to point to the semaphore board, indicating it was his number in the frame as the winner. Now however, he has a true rival capable of beating him if he is not at his absolute best. Perhaps, in time, maybe even when he is.
The Stewards’ Cup on January 29 is the most likely next target for both horses and the 1600m G1 is worthy of Thrilla in Manila-like status. With California Spangle showing a willingness to settle in behind his stablemate on Sunday, the way the race may be run will be a matter of conjecture for the next six weeks.
Will Beauty Joy follow the same path, running in the Stewards’ Cup? If so, will he again try to take up the running, affording California Spangle a cart into the race? If not, will we go back to the sit-and-sprint of the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile? Can Golden Sixty find that half-length he was missing Sunday? He was beaten in the Stewards’ Cup last year, when Purton, once again, stole a break on him aboard Waikuku, having won the event in 2021, albeit narrowly, over Southern Legend.
When Ali and Frazier met for the third and final time, they began the bout one all. The ledger so far this season sees our combatants at one-all as well. Sunday’s race proved there is not as much between the two as most thought, and Golden Sixty and Vincent Ho will need to bring their A-game if they want to hold on to the championship belt.
If that wasn’t good enough there is a possibility the race will not decide the championship belt between just these two: Romantic Warrior is likely to line up as well.
The first of Ali vs Frazier’s three fights was billed ‘The Fight of the Century’, Well if all three genuine world class horses take their positions come race-day, the HKJC could easily coin the term ‘The Race of the Century’.
‘Prophet Of Probability’ is a professional punter with specialist knowledge of Hong Kong racing. Due to professional considerations, he does not wish to be named.
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