Hong Kong: Healthy Happy faces California Spangle in New Year’s Day feature

December 30th, 2023

Edited press release from Hong Kong Jockey Club

Healthy Happy (117 pounds) will chase redemption in the 2024 HK$4.2 million Chinese Club Challenge Cup H. (G3) (1400 meters) for jockey Alexis Badel and trainer Frankie Lor.

Victorious in 2022 and second to Lucky Sweynesse in 2023, the front-running Healthy Happy returns for his third tilt at plundering New Year’s Day’s lucrative feature race at Sha Tin on Monday (late Sunday night into the early hours stateside).

“The 1400 (meters) is good for him,” Lor said. “This time he’ll carry a light weight and I hope he can run a good race. The Hong Kong Mile (G1) was quite strong, so I skipped that race to run him over 1400 meters.”

The seven-year-old faces difficult opposition, headlined by the Group 1-winning California Spangle (135 pounds) as well as Beauty Joy (123 pounds), Red Lion (115 pounds), Fantastic Treasure (115 pounds), Rewarding Together (115 pounds), Atullibigeal (115 pounds) and Taj Dragon (115 pounds).

“California Spangle usually leads, so I don’t mind if we sit second,” Lor said. “He’s (Healthy Happy) had nearly one and a half months off, which should be good, so he’s fresh – we gave him a trial and brought him back to Hong Kong (from Conghua).”

Set to break from barrier 8, Healthy Happy has raced 27 times in Hong Kong for HK$20.8 million in earnings. He boasts five wins in the city, while his most recent scalp came first-up this season in the HK$4.2 million Celebration Cup H. (G3) at this 1400-meter trip.

Also trained by Lor and afforded a featherweight impost in Monday’s Group 3, the 94-rated Rewarding Together rises to 1400 meters for the first time across his 29-start career in Hong Kong.

“It’s looked like the distance has been a bit short across his last few runs, so I’m trying 1400 meters to see any difference in him,” Lor said.

Matthew Chadwick will ride Rewarding Together, who is a six-time winner in Hong Kong, from barrier 5.

Taj Dragon is no stranger to Sha Tin’s 1400-meter chute. The Mehmas gelding has a quartet of wins over the course and distance for trainer Pierre Ng, including last start when defeating two Chinese Club Challenge Cup rivals – Fantastic Treasure and Atullibigeal.

“He pulled up well after his last race. To be honest, we didn’t expect California Spangle to be in this – we’re rated 40 points below him. We’re just looking for a good run,” Ng said.

Taj Dragon has banked HK$8.08 million across 12 starts in Hong Kong. He pairs with jockey Andrea Atzeni in barrier 7 on Monday.

“He loves the distance and there will be good pace for him. I’m hoping he finishes strongly through the line with the light weight to hopefully get some prize money,” Ng said.

Fantastic Treasure represents David Hayes and is third-up in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup. The six-year-old was fifth at Group 2 level two starts ago before his close-up sixth in early December.  

“I thought his last run was really good. I think he’s close to peak fitness, so he could easily run a good race,” Hayes said.

Lyle Hewitson partners Fantastic Treasure from barrier 2.

Tony Cruz saddles California Spangle and Beauty Joy in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup.

California Spangle weakened to 13th at Group 1 level last start behind Golden Sixty at December’s HK$118 million Hong Kong International Races.

“Hugh Bowman’s riding California Spangle and I’m very happy with his condition,” Cruz said.

A regular on-pacer, California Spangle has been assigned barrier 1, while Beauty Joy has drawn gate 4 with James McDonald engaged.

Meanwhile, Lor is planning to enter three runners in the 2024 HK$4.2 million January Cup H. (G3) (1800 meters) at Happy Valley on Jan. 10. The handler readies 2023 winner Money Catcher, Sword Point, and Happy Together for the city circuit’s most-prized race.

“Money Catcher looks OK. He’s not a superstar in the morning,” Lor said. “The short straight at Happy Valley is good for Happy Together – he keeps improving, and I want to see if he can step up to another level or not.”

Monday’s 10-race fixture at Sha Tin kicks off with the first section of the Class 4 Flame Tree H. (1200 meters), just as the clock strikes midnight (ET) to ring in the New Year.