Romantic Warrior creates history with epic G1 W.S. Cox Plate victory
By Leo Schlink in Melbourne
Romantic Warrior has sealed his reputation as an elite global performer with a stunning win in the G1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m), creating history by becoming Hong Kong’s first victor in Australasia’s greatest weight-for-age race at Moonee Valley on Saturday (28 October).
Given a perfect ride by James McDonald, Romantic Warrior clinched his fourth G1 – and his first abroad – with a terminal last-stride lunge to deny Mr Brightside by a nose, while Alligator Blood was a short neck further away in third place.
The overall time of 2m 03.16s was only marginally outside of four-time winner Winx’s race record of 2m 02.94s, set in 2017.
Trainer Danny Shum struggled to reconcile the magnitude of Romantic Warrior’s triumph, which gave him his second major international success after Little Bridge’s G1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) victory at Royal Ascot in 2012.
“I don’t know how to tell you how happy I am. I am really happy,” Shum said while celebrating with owner Peter Lau. “I want to thank Peter the owner for giving permission to come here. James McDonald, all the team, all the Hong Kong fans, my wife Christine, my son Aaron – I love you, I love you.”
Asked what the victory meant, Shum said: “It has big meaning for me as a trainer. It makes me happy. I’m more happy than I can tell you. I was confident he would run a good race. It is a strong race.
“He overcame all of the challenges and the difficulties.”
Romantic Warrior became only the second Hong Kong horse to win an Australian Group 1 after Cape Of Good Hope’s 2005 G1 Australia Stakes (1200m) success for David Oughton at Moonee Valley and the first international Group 1 on the international stage since Aerovelocity won the 2015 G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) at Japan’s Chukyo Racecourse and 2015 G1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m) in Singapore.
McDonald, 31, clinched his second W.S. Cox Plate after winning last year on Anamoe with a supremely calculated ride. The New Zealander surged forward from barrier seven from the start and was momentarily caught three wide behind leader King Colorado.
But McDonald refused to panic, retaining unshakeable faith in Romantic Warrior, who settled well off a solid speed in fourth place behind King Colorado, Zaaki and Alligator Blood before angling out approaching the home turn.
Just when it seemed Alligator Blood would prevail, Mr Brightside dashed through on the rail and appeared likely to win – until Romantic Warrior surged to clinch victory in one of the closest finishes in W.S. Cox Plate history.
A Hong Kong International Sale graduate, Romantic Warrior took his career earnings to HK$99.6 million with today’s HK$15.1 million purse (AU$3 million). The Acclamation gelding’s record now stands at 11 wins from 16 starts with G1 successes in the FWD QEII Cup (2022 & 2023), the 2022 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) as well as his 2022 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) triumph.
McDonald played an instrumental role in convincing Romantic Warrior’s connections to campaign in Australia.
“I showed belief. This horse is pretty special to me. I mentioned if he came to a Cox Plate, he’d be a suitable horse,” McDonald said. “I meant what I said and credit to Peter and Danny, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to come out of Hong Kong with all the prizemoney.
“It is one of the best racing jurisdictions in the world and they come here and showcase their boy.
“I was comfortable. I knew I was on the right horse I kept going (saying) ‘He’s the best horse, he’s the best horse’, so I’d ride him like it.
“I took a gamble about the 1000 (metres) or 1200. We elected to come back a spot and I believe that was the winning move. Giving my horse an extra length to come back.”
Romantic Warrior and travelling companion Romantic Charm will fly back to Hong Kong on Monday (30 October) and McDonald has no doubt Romantic Warrior can strongly contend in the 2023 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup at the HK$118 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races where he will potentially clash with several of today’s combatants.
McDonald believes the five-year-old can improve further ahead of the 10 December showpiece at Sha Tin.
“I reckon he’s got more to come, too. He’s been bubbling,” McDonald said.
Among those horses included in the entries for the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, Mr Brightside showed he would be highly competitive at Sha Tin by almost toppling Romantic Warrior, while Duais (fourth), Gold Trip (fifth) and Zaaki (sixth) were beaten less than two lengths. Another LONGINES Hong Kong Cup nominee, Victoria Road, finished ninth.
Six-time Hong Kong Champion Jockey Zac Purton finished seventh aboard Fangirl, who raced along the fence with limited room in the home straight.
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