FORMER Ballydoyle trained and Royal Ascot winner Russian Emperor confirmed his place as one of the best in Hong Kong’s staying division with a last-to-first win in the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over a mile and a half at Sha Tin last Sunday.
It was a second Group 1 success for the Blake Shinn-ridden gelding with a performance deserving of recognition as Hong Kong Champion Stayer (2021/’22) after winning the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup in February and a second placing behind Golden Sixty over a mile the following month.
The Galileo gelding, out of the champion Australian mare Atlantic Jewel, was dropped out to settle last as usual in the early stages, while Nordic Sky charged forward to lead.
Shinn made his move in the home turn and the five-year-old responded with a withering burst, hitting the front with 200m left to lead Ka Ying Star by a length and three quarters, while Senor Toba closed for third.
“The big races in Hong Kong are so prestigious and well recognised around the world, so to be competing is one thing; to be winning them, is another. We’re on the world stage now and to win such a prestigious race, I feel like I’m on top of the world right now,” Shinn said.
“To win two Group 1s on him now and to win the last Group 1 in Hong Kong (of the season) is real big buzz, I tell you,” Shinn said. “It’s a team effort and it’s a really big thrill to win today.”
“I must thank Douglas because after his last run at 2,000 metres, he pulled quite hard and I thought going to 2,400 metres, we’re not going to win if he pulls.
“So, I suggested considering taking the blinkers off. Douglas stewed over it, he thinks about it very carefully and he said it was the right call. Honestly the horse switched off the whole race and his turn of foot is electric when he switches off,” Shinn said.
First as a trainer
Douglas Whyte won three Champions & Chater Cups as a jockey with Cheers Hong Kong (2002), Packing Winner (2008) and Helene Super Star (2015); this triumph was his first as a trainer.
“It’s the longest 2,400 (metres) of my life. When you’re a jockey, things unfold and you can see them unfolding in front of you but when you’re standing on the side and watching it, it gets quite daunting.
“He showed that he has got a really good turn of foot for a stayer. If he can continue to race in this sort of form and with these racing manners, he’s an exciting horse for all these staying races next season,” Whyte said.
“He is part of the family. I learned in my time as a jockey that you can get on one good horse one season and you might not get another good one for three seasons, so when you get a champion in your hands, you take care of him.
“The reason the pressure is there with him is I don’t know when the next one will come along. When you get one, you care for them and you try to present them in the best possible form when they step out,” Whyte said.
“He’s a much more rounded horse. The reason for the improvement is that he was a younger horse, still on the up and maturing. He had gone through a big stage of his career with the pressure of Hong Kong and he hadn’t quite adapted to the firmness of the ground.
“I think he had a lot of things against him leading into this race last year but we’ve come out on top this year.”