Richard Gibson flies the flag for Britain in Chairman's Sprint with Wellington
JA McGrath on the key figures who could shape the Champions Day action
English-born trainer who was quick to make his name after taking out a licence at Chantilly. Early in his career, he won the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac with Lady Of Chad and then embarked on a successful international campaign with Doctor Dino, who won the Hong Kong Vase in consecutive years as well as the Man o’War Stakes in the US.
Gibson, 51, is in his tenth season in Hong Kong and is notable for his handing of high-quality horses. He won the Hong Kong Derby and Hong Kong Cup with Akeed Mofeed, while he saddled Gold-Fun to take the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, the race he targets this year with Wellington.
Gold-Fun progressed to run second in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2016, nearly providing Gibson with a career highlight.
Wellington, who has an impressive six wins from nine starts, turned in a rare disappointing run when fifth in the Sprint Cup at Sha Tin this month and attempts to return to the winner’s spot in his biggest assignment yet.
Third behind Christophe Lemaire in the JRA jockeys’ title race, the 31-year-old gave up Group 1 rides at home to maintain the partnership with Daring Tact, the first unbeaten winner of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown. They lead a strong visiting challenge in the QEII Cup.
Matsuyama has arrived relatively late at the top table. He rode his first Classic winner in 2017 and it was his association with Daring Tact that propelled him to prominence and secured him better rides. As well as the filly’s Classic-winning exploits, she finished third in last year’s Japan Cup. This is Matsuyama’s first experience of Sha Tin and he sought the advice of Lemaire and Yutaka Take on how best to ride the track.
Japanese raiders have a fine record at this meeting. Notable winners include Win Bright, Neorealism, Rulership and Eishin Preston. The flight time from Tokyo to Hong Kong is much shorter than for most other visitors and that makes it an appealing destination for the Japanese.
Formerly a journeyman jockey who became one of the success stories of the HKJC’s policy of fostering local talent. After a thorough grounding as an assistant, Lui, 62, was granted a training licence in the 1990s and has been training for 25 years. It has taken that time for him to find his ‘horse of a lifetime’ in Golden Sixty, who boasts a record of 16 from 17 as he tackles the Champions Mile.
Lui earned much praise for preparing the son of Medaglia D’Oro to win last year’s Four-Year-Old Triple Crown, culminating in the Hong Kong Derby. He has returned as good as ever this season, although he had to dig deep to win the Hong Kong Gold Cup in February.
As the end of a memorable season, Lui finished third to Ricky Yiu in the trainers’ championship last year. The quality of horse in his stable has risen significantly in recent seasons.
The Brazilian has been a sensation in the saddle everywhere he has travelled. He has ridden eight winners on the card at Sha Tin, Kranji in Singapore and, earlier in his career, at Cidade Jardim in Sao Paulo.
Three-times Hong Kong champion Moreira, 37, has been in great form this season in his quest to win back the jockeys’ crown from Zac Purton. In December last year, Moreira became only the third jockey to register 1,000 winners in Hong Kong.
He predicts the championship will “go right down to the wire”. He built up a lead of 31 wins over Purton but the Australian has whittled that to 14 going into Champions Day. “He’s clipping my heels,” Moreira says.
The Magic Man put behind him a failed attempt to ride permanently in Japan in 2018 and has regained the admiration and respect built up prior to that disastrous episode. It is Japan which supplies him with his best chance of a feature win on Danon Smash in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
The dynamic Queenslander is the defending champion and determined to hold on to the jockeys’ title, which he won last year for the fourth time. He has been riding in brilliant form, with multiple winners at a string of meetings and is eating into the lead established by Moreira.
Purton, 38, has several remarkable achievements to his credit, but most newsworthy is that two seasons ago his mounts won a staggering £23.4m in prize-money in a single season, a record likely to stand for some time.
He enjoyed a long association with record-breaker Beauty Generation, who was retired earlier this season, and he also has a lasting link to Exultant, who will attempt back-to-back wins in the QEII Cup. Exultant is the best of his feature rides at the meeting.
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