May 27, 2024

California Spangle stars in course-record Al Quoz Sprint

California Spangle with Brenton Avdulla, trainer Tony Cruz (third from left) and connections after winning the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan racecourse (Photo by Horsephotos)

The Tony Cruz-trained California Spangle looked like the next big thing when flooring Golden Sixty in the 2022 Hong Kong Mile (G1), but the Starspangledbanner gelding needed a cutback in trip to hit the heights again. His front-running coup in the March 10 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) at Sha Tin suggested a rejuvenation, and he confirmed it in course-record style in Saturday’s $1.5 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1).

Dispatched at 2-1 with a returning Brenton Avdulla, California Spangle was always in the vanguard with Ponntos before asserting his class. Godolphin’s smart three-year-old filly Star of Mystery tried to take full advantage of her light weight, an angle that contributed to her going off as the 9-5 favorite. Even a 13-pound weight concession wasn’t sufficient to stop the winner.

California Spangle was comfortably on top by three-quarters of a length in 1:07.50, lowering Wildman Jack’s course mark of 1:07.61 for about six furlongs. Campaigned by the executors of the estate of Howard Liang Yum Shing, known for naming his runners “California,” the Irish-bred set the stage for a poignant celebration for his family.

“The family – the ‘California family’ – is here today,” Cruz said. “Howard Liang, whose horses usually are named California, passed away recently so I would like to dedicate this win to him. We are over the moon with this, the owner’s wish was always to win these big races. I wish he was here tonight but his whole family is here and we’re going to celebrate together.”

Trainer Charlie Appleby was thrilled with Star of Mystery’s effort.

“Delighted. Frankie (Dettori) said he just got to his (California Spangle’s) quarters and she went again. But she’s a three-year-old against battle-hardened sprinters. As to what we’ll do with her; it’s whether we go to the King’s Stand (G1) (now rebranded the King Charles III at Royal Ascot) or give her a proper break. The race I’d like to work back from is the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1); I think that will suit her really well.”

British shipper Diligent Harry reported home the same margin astern in third, continuing his upward curve for Clive Cox. Local longshot Bilhayl completed the superfecta, while the other Hong Konger, Sight Success, rallied for fifth, and American hope Casa Creed was a staying-on sixth. Defending champion Danyah didn’t factor in ninth, and Ponntos, a five-furlong specialist, tired to last of the dozen over the extra furlong.

The top three could all have Royal Ascot on the agenda, but California Spangle has business back at home first in the April 28 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1).

“I knew it would happen sooner or later,” said Cruz, who emulated brother Derek’s feat of winning the Al Quoz back in 2010 with Joy and Fun. I” got this opportunity and I came with a lot of confidence that we would win this race today.

“If you look back through his history, California Spangle on his debut, he ran a record time in Hong Kong and he ran a record time at 1200 meters (about six furlongs). I believe when he hits the front, nobody can catch him. 

“I think we’ll go into sprint races back in Hong Kong, that’s the end of April. We’ll take on Lucky Sweynesse. He’s always been a sprinter-miler and I believe he’s more a sprinter than a miler. You have to go for those longer races in Hong Kong earlier in their career, but I think we know where he is best now.”

California Spangle has compiled a record of 25-13-6-2, including wins or placings in a grand total of 14 stakes. It’s a measure of his raw ability that he was a main player in the 2022 Four-Year-Old Series. He scored a victory in the about nine-furlong Hong Kong Classic Cup and placed second in the other two legs, the Hong Kong Classic Mile and Hong Kong Derby, to the outstanding Romantic Warrior.