June 18, 2024

Wellington eyes Royal Ascot after reasserting himself in Hong Kong Sprint

Wellington proved himself the divisional champion in the Hong Kong Sprint (Photo by Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Trainer Richard Gibson’s confidence in Wellington proved well founded in Sunday’s Hong Kong Sprint (G1), as the divisional champion reasserted himself at Sha Tin. A lame sixth behind up-and-comer Lucky Sweynesse in the Nov. 20 Jockey Club Sprint (G2), Wellington was back on song in time to achieve a long-held Hong Kong International Races objective.

“All our energy has been focused since last year for this race,” Gibson said, alluding to his seventh in a tragically eventful Hong Kong Sprint last December. “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.”

Lucky Sweynesse’s connections could be saying something quite similar a year from now, considering the favorite’s terribly unlucky experience on Sunday. Buried in traffic on the inside, he didn’t get the opportunity to do himself justice in sixth.

But Wellington was a deserving winner as Hong Kong’s reigning champion sprinter. Hero of the Feb. 20 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1), Apr. 3 Sprint Cup (G2), and the past two editions of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1), he dispatched Lucky Sweynesse two starts back, while spotting him 11 pounds, in the Oct. 23 Premier Bowl (G2). Their most recent meeting wasn’t a true bill, and Wellington wasn’t about to pass the baton just yet.

With Ryan Moore taking over for the injured Alexis Badel, Wellington bided his time in the latter part of the field before building up inexorable momentum. Singapore shipper Lim’s Kosciuszko flashed speed on the rail, but Sight Success headed him through a modest tempo. Japan’s Meikei Yell moved up to chase them from post 14.

Sight Success beat off those early pursuers and still had energy left down the lane. Then Wellington arrived on the scene to take command. Last year’s winner, Sky Field, also rallied well from far back, but not enough to repeat.

Wellington reported home three-quarters of a length clear of Sight Success, who salvaged second by a half-length from Sky Field. Courier Wonder, a stablemate of Sight Success from the John Size yard, rounded out an all-Hong Kong top four. Meikei Yell was the only Japanese runner to make a race of it in fifth. Next came Lucky Sweynesse; Gibson’s other hope, Cordyceps Six; Super Wealthy; Stronger; Naran Huleg; Duke Wai; Gendarme; Resistencia; and Lim’s Kosciuszko.

By covering about six furlongs in 1:08.76, Wellington enhanced his resume to 19-12-1-0.

“You can’t call yourself a sprint champion unless you win this big one,” Gibson said, emphasizing the importance of the HKIR to his profile.

“It was very straightforward from my horse,” Moore said. “He took me there comfortably and had the race sewn up with 200 meters 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 also paid tribute to Badel’s role.

“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,” the horseman said. “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.”

Wellington’s upcoming targets are at home, but he could try a British venture to Royal Ascot in June.

“There is a program for him during the coming months,” Gibson said, “but if that goes well, we will look at Ascot.”

Bred by Kia Ora Stud in Australia, the six-year-old gelding is by All Too Hard (Black Caviar’s champion half-brother) and out of the Group 2-placed More Than Ready mare Mihiri. This is the black-type-rich family of Moonstone, Cerulean Sky, and L’Ancresse.