Voyage Warrior’s blazing debut win last month ranks as one of this season’s “wow’ moments and the speedy three-year-old will attempt to repeat that performance on Monday, 22 April at Sha Tin.
Trainer Ricky Yiu’s raw galloper spread-eagled his rivals, winning by an eased-down four lengths up the 1000m straight in a handy 56.65s, and while that was only a Class 4 contest, the manner of victory suggested a much greater talent.
But Yiu is not getting carried away ahead of the Australian-bred gelding’s step up to Class 3 in the Hong Kong Lions Cup Handicap (1000m), and neither is jockey Karis Teetan.
“You can see the quality he has but it’s still early to put a high mark on him. He looks like he might work his way to the top but it’s a long way to go,” the Mauritian rider said at Sha Tin this morning (Thursday, 18 April).
Yiu is no stranger to identifying and nurturing elite sprint talent. The high-class Blizzard, G1-winning speedster Amber Sky, and, of course, the world champion Sacred Kingdom all flourished at the Yiu academy.
“We have to take it one race at a time,” the trainer said. “Somebody already compared him to a horse like Sacred Kingdom but it’s still much too early to say that. He’s just moved up to Class 3 so anything could happen.”
The handler is nonetheless pleased with the son of Declaration Of War. He expects a big run at the Easter holiday fixture.
“He pulled up 100 percent after his first race,” he said. “He’s going to do well carrying a slightly lighter weight at a distance he’s shown he loves, so far. We’re happy with him, he’s making good progress and he should run another good race.
“He hasn’t put a step wrong; he’s a very handy type of horse. He’s easy to train – a natural.”
And Yiu does not believe his rising star is a pure straight track specialist: he has no concerns about Voyage Warrior proving his abilities around the turn in time.
“He’ll have no problem going 1200 metres, he might even go 1400,” he said. “When I bought him I looked at the pedigree and thought he’d be a sprinter-miler. So that was a good win over 1000 metres – he did it so easily.”
Teetan has no doubt that the youngster learned something from his debut despite the ease of success.
“He was looking around a little bit in his first race – not too bad – but it was good experience for him. He led and had to do everything by himself, so if he can do that, it’s a good sign already,” the rider said.
I think we all knew a bit about him, he’d trialled so well; when they go to the races after that you expect them to do well but he met our expectations. In fact, he won a little bit more easily than I thought he would.
“He’s a genuine horse, a very nice horse and I think there are a lot of good things to look forward to,” he added.
Voyage Warrior (119lb) will face 13 rivals including the John Moore-trained Sunny Boy (128lb). Injuries have meant that the Australian import lines up for his Hong Kong debut having not raced since finishing fourth in a Randwick G2 in February 2017, when named Eden Roc.
Trainer Me Tsui’s dirt track specialist Ugly Warrior (121lb) returns to his favoured surface in Monday’s Class 2 Peacock Handicap (1200m), having raced smartly in defeat in two turf contests, latterly when fifth to Full Of Beauty in mid-March.
The four-year-old is shooting for a sixth course and distance triumph but faces stiff competition, with the John Size-trained Gunnison (133lb) setting the benchmark off top-weight.
“It’s an open race, a very tough race,” Tsui said this morning. “We’ve kept him fresh to come back to the dirt and he should run a good race. His last two runs at 1200 (metres) on the turf, I wasn’t too disappointed with those.”
Champion jockey Zac Purton takes the reins for the second time, the pair having landed a victory at the track and trip almost a year ago. The Australian was up top for a recent trial in which Ugly Warrior was kept under a hold in midfield.
“Zac was happy with him after the trial,” Tsui said.
The handler sent Fight Hero to South Korea for the KOR G1 Korea Sprint (1200m, sand), in which he was a narrow second, but will wait to see how results go in the coming months before making those plans for the 93-rated Ugly Warrior.
“It depends on the horse’s performance,” he said. “We’ll let him show us. We can have ideas to go for this or this but we’ll let the horse show us if he has the ability to do it.”
Ugly Warrior will break from gate one.
Trainer Peter Ho will oppose with the lightly-raced four-year-old I Am Power (115lb), who has his second start on the dirt having placed a good third on turf last time behind Refined Treasure.
“He trialed on the dirt when I first got him on dirt and I thought he handled the surface quite well. His last run was very good but there are not many races in the programme for him so that’s why I’ve put him on the dirt,” the trainer said.
“Frankie Lor’s apprentice, Alfie Chan, will ride him, so with the 10lb claim the horse will have a featherweight and with the way he trialed on the dirt, I think he has a chance to perform well.
“He’s a European horse so he is still improving. I think he’ll run a very good race.”
In the Class 3 Swan Handicap (1200m), also on the dirt track, the Tsui-trained Winner Supreme will attempt to make it three on the bounce at the track and trip, with Neil Callan in the saddle for the first time.
Monday’s action starts at 1pm (3pm AEST) with the Class 4 Egret Handicap (1650m).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club