January 27, 2023

Wellington, Lucky Sweynesse meet again in Hong Kong Sprint

Lucky Sweynesse overturned Wellington (not visible in sixth) in the Jockey Club Sprint (Photo by Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Sunday’s Hong Kong Sprint (G1) serves up a rubber match between the establishment, epitomized by Wellington, and the upwardly mobile Lucky Sweynesse. Their budding rivalry arguably overshadows the fact that last year’s top two, Sky Field and Resistencia, are also back in action in the about six-furlong dash at Sha Tin.

Check out all the previews of the Hong Kong International Races here

Hong Kong Sprint (G1) – Race 5 (1:50 a.m. ET)

Wellington was only seventh in a spill-marred Hong Kong Sprint last December, but the Richard Gibson charge struck top form in the spring. By All Too Hard (Black Caviar’s champion half-brother), Wellington secured a championship of his own with a three-race winning spree. The Australian import captured the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1), Sprint Cup (G2), and the Apr. 24 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1), the latter for the second straight year. Wellington extended his streak to four in his seasonal reappearance in the Oct. 23 Premier Bowl H. (G2), giving Lucky Sweynesse 11 pounds and a beating.

But Lucky Sweynesse upended the narrative next time in the Nov. 20 Jockey Club Sprint (G2). Although the reduced weight spread of just five pounds appeared to favor Wellington all the more, he regressed to sixth, and Lucky Sweynesse stepped up. Last season’s leading “griffin,” or rookie, rallied to advance his career record to 10-7-2-1.

Trainer Manfred Man, no stranger to top-class sprinters, has hailed Lucky Sweynesse as the best horse he’s had. The New Zealand-bred will be making just his third Group appearance, and first at the top level, but raw talent could trump inexperience. He’s also better drawn, in post 3 with Zac Purton, while Wellington is further out in post 10 with Ryan Moore.

Wellington did have an excuse for his prep loss, exiting the Jockey Club Sprint lame, and he meets Lucky Sweynesse at level weights here. Note that Gibson has sounded bullish about his prospects on Sunday. Gibson also has a dark horse in Cordyceps Six, who is stealthily rounding into form but marooned in post 13. Climbing the class ladder with a photo-finish score in the May 22 Sha Tin Vase H. (G3), under a feathery 113 pounds, Cordyceps Six backed it up with a near-miss to Super Wealthy in the Oct. 1 National Day Cup H. (G3). The deep closer made headway for sixth to Wellington, and a nearer fifth to Lucky Sweynesse, in their recent preps.

Defending champ Sky Field may have been in the right place at the right time to win a year ago, considering the misfortune to a few rivals. Indeed, the Caspar Fownes pupil hasn’t won since. Sky Field has placed a few times, though, including a head second to Stronger in the Jan. 23 Centenary Sprint Cup (G1) and thirds to Wellington in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize and Premier Bowl. Post 11 complicates his task.

Last year’s runner-up, Resistencia, was among those who had to take evasive action to avoid the fallen, and that might have cost her as she came up three-quarters of a length shy of Sky Field. The former Japanese champion two-year-old filly was coming up to the 2021 edition in more orthodox fashion than she is now. Unlike a year ago, when she was race-fit with a pair of fine efforts versus males in the fall, Resistencia is attempting this off the bench. She has not raced since an 11th in the June 5 Yasuda Kinen (G1) over a metric mile.

Her fellow Japanese shippers all have a recency edge on her. The four-year-old filly Meikei Yell kicked off her autumn campaign with a bang in the Centaur (G2), blitzing in a record 1:06.20 for about six furlongs at Chukyo. But she faded to 14th as the favorite in the Sprinters (G1), won by Gendarme, an erstwhile classic participant who scored a new career high at the age of seven. Sprinters third Naran Huleg had prevailed over Meikei Yell, Resistencia, and Gendarme when upsetting Japan’s major early-season sprint, the Mar. 27 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1).

The wild card in the Sprint is Singapore celebrity Lim’s Kosciuszko. A perfect 8-for-8 at this distance, the Dan Meagher runner has a wider range as the hero of the about 1 1/8-mile Singapore Derby. This is a deeper class test, but his winning attitude can’t be discounted.

The center of gravity in this race, however, lies with the local brigade. Other Hong Kong-based hopes are Duke Wai and Sight Success, the respective third and fourth in the Jockey Club Sprint; Courier Wonder, third in the 2021 Hong Kong Sprint but off form at the moment; and also-eligibles Computer Patch, runner-up to Wellington in the past two editions of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, and once-progressive Master Eight.

Bet on TwinSpires.com: How to play the four Hong Kong International Races