Wellington sparkles in Hong Kong Sprint (HKJC)
By Tom Peacock
Wellington now looks to have the racing world at his feet after the home-trained champion delivered a performance of real authority in the HK$24 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on Sunday (11 December).
Richard Gibson’s six-year-old has had an almost faultless 12 months since his unfortunate seventh-place run in this 1200m showpiece at the end of 2021. Now a four-time Group 1 winner, he has swept the board in divisional honours, retaining his G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) and returning from a break with an admirable weight-carrying performance in the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m).
Only a few weeks ago, Wellington’s regular rider Alexis Badel dislocated his shoulder in a fall at Sha Tin and so Gibson looked to the very top for a replacement – his British compatriot Ryan Moore.
Moore, one of the world’s leading pilots who was winning his eighth race at the HK$110 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races (HKIR), admitted the race went perfectly to plan as he settled in the middle of the pack. Singapore runner Lim’s Kosciuszko went to the front and was then superseded by Christophe Lemaire and John Size-trained Sight Success.
With 200m remaining, Lemaire had set for home but Wellington was on his shoulder in an instant, passing the line three-quarters of a length in front in a time of 1m 08.76s. Sight Success held on for second, ahead of Sky Field and Courier Wonder in a finish dominated by Hong Kong runners.
“He began very well, the pace was very slow for the first furlong and a half,” said Moore. “I was able to slot in just worse than midfield, had a bit of cover and I was able to go when I wanted to go.
“It was very straightforward from my horse, he took me there comfortably and had the race sewn up with 200m to go really. To me, he has looked the best sprinter in Hong Kong for some time now and obviously it’s very harsh on Alexis but I’m very thankful to pick up the ride and have a go on him today.”
Gibson had been given a challenge as Wellington had been lame after finishing sixth in the G2 BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint (1200m).
“You can’t call yourself a sprint champion unless you win this big one,” he said. “We’re all part of a really big team, Alexis is a huge part of that and I’m gutted for him to miss it but so proud of my guys. We had a lot of work to do after his disappointing run last time out and we’ve got a great veterinary team, chiropractors, there’s a lot of people to thank. We had to be a bit patient but I was pleased we hadn’t missed work with him.”
Gibson had won three races at this meeting but this was his first since 2013, not long after he had relocated from training in France. He was emotional about delivering for owners Mr and Mrs Michael Cheng Wing On and Jeffrey Cheng Man Cheong and this opens the door to travel with Wellington, possibly to Royal Ascot next June.
“All our energy has been focused since last year for this race,” Gibson said. “We really wanted to win it for Hong Kong and for the owners, who have been so supportive to me and were my first owners in Hong Kong. I’m delighted I’ve delivered one of our biggest races here and it’s fantastic for Hong Kong to have horses of this ability.
“There is a programme for him during the coming months, but if that goes well, we will look at Ascot.”