Soumillon delivers Gold in Chairman’s Sprint Prize thriller
You could have thrown a blanket across the principals at the climax of a thrilling HKG1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) at Sha Tin today, Sunday 15 February, but when the camera clicked it was Gold-Fun who had his visored head in front.
Hong Kong’s Champion Miler last season, Gold-Fun was the highest rated horse in the field with a Hong Kong mark of 130, a full 6lb clear of the field. But the six-year-old had to mine deep into that raw class to make his first start at a distance short of 1400m a winning one. A short-head was the margin from Aerovelocity, with Lucky Nine, seeking a hat-trick in this second leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, a neck away in third.
Christophe Soumillon had flown in to partner Gold-Fun and the Belgian enjoyed a smooth rail run just behind the pace as Flagship Shine edged a narrow lead ahead of Aerovelocity. As in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m), Zac Purton nursed Aerovelocity into the stretch and, with the lead secured, shook the reins at the powerful bay at around the 300m mark. Unlike in December, Soumillon was tracking his every move atop Gold-Fun and switched out to launch his assault.
“I was quite confident before the race and I stayed covered behind the favourite, which was where I wanted to be,” said France’s Champion Jockey. “I had the perfect position turning into the straight; I shook him up 300m out and 100m out I knew I could win it but I knew it was going to be a small margin.”
Soumillon threw his all at Richard Gibson’s charge in the closing stages: “Richard told me to be strong in the straight,” he said. That powerful drive paid off as Purton rallied Aerovelocity to no avail.
“The leader fought back and was actually in front again just after the line so I was happy that the winning post came when it did!” said Soumillon.
The Pan Sutong-owned gelding was making it nine wins from 20 starts in Hong Kong and a third at local Group 1 level following the Hong Kong Classic Mile as a four-year-old and last season’s victory in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup over 1400m (third leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series). The victory now opens up sprint options for the son of Le Vie Dei Colori.
“It was not a surprise for me, he was the highest rated horse in the race, and against a quality field today I felt the jockey made the difference in such a small margin. It’s all credit to Mr Soumillon and I wish he was here more often,” said Gibson.
“I haven’t hidden my opinion that, although he was voted Hong Kong’s Champion Miler last year, I always thought 1400m was his best distance and now we’ve just won a Group 1 race at 1200m.”
Gibson was non-committal as to where Gold-Fun might go to next, preferring to enjoy the moment and leave race planning for another day.
“Today is about Gold-Fun and Christophe Soumillon. It was a fantastic ride from the French champion jockey. It’s a great honour and privilege to have him back in Hong Kong and I wish he was here more often,” said the trainer.
Gold-Fun stopped the clock at 1m 08.79s with a final 400m sectional of 23.07s. Peniaphobia, runner-up in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and winner of last month’s HKG1 Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup (1000m), the first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, crossed the line three quarters of a length back in fourth.
Last season’s G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m – Tapeta) victor Sterling City showed marked improvement on his previous form this season. John Moore’s charge ran home strongly from the tail to finish sixth, clocking the fastest final 400m of all at 22.88s.