In normal times all eyes would be on Golden Sixty in the Stewards’ Cup (G1) at Sha Tin Racecourse January 23 as the Golden medal gelding shoots for his 17th win in a row.
Sadly, there will be no eyes – well, no fans’ eyes – on the track to witness the race. The Hong Kong government has tightened the screws of the pandemic restrictions and only key racing personnel will be allowed on the grounds. Even video simulcast to off-track gambling sites is being cut to avoid crowds at those facilities.
“Our customers are among the most passionate in the world,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. “But these are challenging times.”
Despite the challenges, those watching and betting at home will see one of the best horses in Hong Kong history attempt to continue its legend in the second of two Group 1 events on the schedule.
Golden Sixty has only been beaten once in 20 previous local starts. A subsequent win would be the number of consecutive victories of the honored . match? silent witness. And the Hong Kong earnings record of the recently retired superstar Beauty generation at some point this season.
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Regular rider Vincent Ho said that at age 6, Golden Sixty shines brighter than ever.
“He’s worked well. I’m looking forward to it,” said Ho of the Stewards’ Cup. “At six years old I think he’s better than ever, mentally and physically. He’s more mature. I wouldn’t say he’s changed much, but after the summer he’s gotten a little bigger. Mentally he’s more mature. He knows what to do in the mornings and in the races.”
Golden Sixty faces six rivals in the Stewards’ Cup. Most are known, but only one, more than this, appears to be in its current form to pose a threat. More Than This was a second behind the champion in the Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1) in December – encouraging, but still 1 3/4 lengths short of getting the job done.
His rider, Derek Leung, sounded only faint hope in the week before the Stewards’ Cup, telling Declan Schuster of the Hong Kong Jockey Club: “I’m sure with a smooth run he will get some prize money. We’ve got the horse from de Jaar (Golden Sixty) in the race, but my horse is fitter now. He’s only had two runs this season, so his condition is getting better and he’s improved a bit in the morning.”
The co-featured Centenary Sprint Cup (G1) features some of Hong Kong’s best sprinters including wellington, airfield, and Hot King Prawn.
The pandemic restrictions will be in effect at least through the first week of February, meaning the wildly popular Chinese New Year’s race festival will also be held in front of empty stands. Still, Engelbrecht-Bresges pointed out that horse racing was one of the few activities that took place in Hong Kong during the two years of the pandemic.
“Hong Kong horse racing is the source of tremendous entertainment – and an exciting diversion in difficult circumstances – as well as providing employment to thousands of people in our city,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges. “We will take all appropriate steps to ensure the continuation of racing under approved government protocols.”