Wary of light-weight threats, Douglas Whyte hopes forecast rain can tilt the scales in Russian Emperor’s favour when the reigning Hong Kong Champion Stayer tackles the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (7 May).
Freshened after an overseas campaign highlighted by victory in the QAT G1 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2400m) at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha, Russian Emperor will carry top weight of 135lb and concedes up to 20lb to some of his 11 rivals on Sunday.
Bidding for his first success in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap after two wins as a jockey – in 2004 aboard Industrial Success and again in 2012 atop Dominant for John Moore – Whyte believes Russian Emperor has the quality to contend if the conditions are suitable.
“He’s got to lump 135lb. I’m hoping there’s some rain around, the forecast is for rain and if that happened, he would certainly get his chance,” said Whyte, who has 32 wins for the season. “Russian Emperor’s got Hugh Bowman on and he’s going to give him a peach of a ride and he’s not going to lump around dead weight because Hugh’s a heavy jock.
“Obviously, I’m very wary about Caspar’s lightweight (Straight Arron, who is handicapped on 115lb). He’s going around with no weight and, in this particular race, is renowned for the light weights but with a bit of a give in the ground and rain, I think Russian Emperor can be the deciding factor in this race.”
Whyte rode Russian Emperor on Tuesday morning (2 May) on Sha Tin and was satisfied with the dual Group 1 winner’s enthusiasm as he completed a 1200m workout by closing the final 400m off in 24.8s.
“I put him on the grass on Tuesday for a 1200m gallop, his usual routine. Probably coming back from Qatar and Dubai, he’s had a long campaign hence the light freshen-up but I’m happy with him,” Whyte said. “I’m looking forward to Sunday, but let’s hope there’s some rain about.”
Russian Emperor’s finest Hong Kong victory came on a yielding track with a four and a quarter length triumph in the 2022 G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) when the former Irish stayer led home a Whyte quinella from Savvy Nine with Golden Sixty a distant third.
Bowman, who has 49 victories this season, teams with Russian Emperor for the first time in a race.
“I’m excited to be riding him, I trialled him before he went to the Middle East and won and so looking forward riding him again,” the Australian said. “The distance is ideal but I’m not so sure the handicap plays in his favour – he’s giving some horses some 20 pounds but it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.
“It is what it is. He’s a class horse and he’s at his favourite trip so he’s got a bit in his favour but he’s got a bit against him, too.”
This weekend’s HK$3.9 million test features fellow G1 winner and 2020/21 Hong Kong Champion Stayer Panfield, 2021 Queen Mother Memorial Cup winner Butterfield, last season’s winner Senor Toba, G1 runner-up Columbus County and boom galloper Straight Arron.
Bowman continues his association with Ricky Yiu-trained Mighty Stride in the Class 3 Tulip Handicap (1400m), hopeful of another win on the strapping chestnut.
“He’s got an impressive record, he’s an impressive looking horse and gives you a very good feel,” Bowman said. “He’s got the advantage of barrier one, although he seems to be a horse who races better with the benefit of a little bit of room. He’s a nice, progressive horse but I think he meets the strongest field that he has to date, so it will be interesting to see where he fits in.”
Jamie Richards will chase successive victories with Red Elegance when the exciting three-year-old tackles the Class 3 Magnolia Handicap (1000m) with only 117lb under Zac Purton.
“He’s in good order and he won well first-up,” Richards said. “He heads back to the races in good shape, he’s had a nice maintenance trial since that race and I’m happy with him. He’s a nice horse but he’s going to have to be on Sunday – there’s a couple of young, up and coming horses in there.”
Sunday’s (7 May) 11-race card starts at Sha Tin with the Carnation Plate (1000m) for Griffins at 12.30pm (AEST 14:30).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club