The Golden Age has made-all for two wins at Happy Valley this season.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By Andrew Hawkins
Jockey Matthew Chadwick believes that The Golden Age is heading the right way to develop into a BMW Hong Kong Derby contender, with the four-year-old set to continue his progression towards the March feature in Wednesday night’s (31 January) Class 2 Siu Sai Wan Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley.
The Golden Age (129lb), a Group 3 winner in France when named Kontrastat, has come of age this term for trainer Tony Cruz with two strong Class 2 wins at Happy Valley and a second in the G3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at the city track last start.
“He’s been racing really well,” Chadwick said at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning (30 January). “It’s only been three weeks since his last run and he hasn’t had a trial in between, so the step back to 1650m doesn’t appear a problem. He seems to handle both 1650m and 1800m pretty well, and he is more relaxed this preparation. From the inside gate, I should be right up close and if nothing takes him on, he should be hard to run down.”
Free-wheeling out in front has been The Golden Age’s game this season, but Chadwick said he would be happy to sit behind horses if pressure came from his outside.
“There are a couple of horses that could take me on, including his old stablemate Happy Spirit,” the rider said. “If he or Solar Hei Hei come across, then I think my horse is versatile enough to settle in behind. He relaxes well in the mornings now, so I don’t see it as a major problem.”
Cruz indicated that The Golden Age would head towards the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on 18 March, with a possible run in the Hong Kong Classic Cup or a 1650m Class 1 at Happy Valley in mid-February before that.
“It’s a different form line, but he’s racing well, so he deserves his chance,” Chadwick said. “I assume he will end up heading that way in the end.”
Victory could take the front-runner to the head of the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge, a points-based contest for horses racing in Class 3 and above at Happy Valley. The challenge, which started on 6 September, concludes on 21 February.
Another horse that could potentially push forward in the early stages is Helene Charisma (131lb), who returns to racing after a gelding operation in late December. That came only days after the 2016 G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m) winner finished a long last behind Highland Reel in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), but jockey Sam Clipperton says that the Air Chief Marshal five-year-old has been a different character since he was gelded.
“He’s no longer like a teenage boy,” Clipperton said. “He doesn’t snort or sweat up like he used to and he seems to have changed his attitude and his demeanour, so I’m hoping the gelding operation does bring about a change of form. He certainly needs it and the signs are good.”
Clipperton partnered Helene Charisma in a race for the first time in the Hong Kong Vase, but he has been aboard the galloper many times in the mornings throughout the French import’s time at Sha Tin. The rider is hopeful that the switch to Happy Valley may also prove ideal.
“I think Happy Valley will suit him,” he said. “He’s been looking for a bit of cut in the ground. He had great form in Europe on tracks with some give but the track at Sha Tin might just be a bit firm for him. Going to the Valley where he can get his toe in a bit more might suit him.
“It could be a bit short for him,” he continued. “He’s had a good freshen-up though and it’s not a big field either, so he should be within striking distance at the top of the straight. He does have a very good turn-of-foot if he wants to use it, but that’s where the gelding operation may come into play – hopefully, we now see the horse we know he can be.
“It’s not an overly strong race either, so if he can bring his best form, he’s going to be a real hope.”
Also lining up in the Siu Sai Wan Handicap are the John Size-trained top-weight Dinozzo (133lb), who is also entered for Sunday’s (4 February) G3 Centenary Vase Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin, and January Cup fourth Marvel Hero (132lb).
The eight-race Happy Valley card begins with the Class 4 Fa Hui Handicap (1000m) at 11.15am, with the Siu Sai Wan Handicap scheduled as the fifth event at 1.15pm.