Royal Ascot 2023: Hong Kong's Wellington looms in Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee
Hong Kong’s champion sprinter for the 2021-22 season, Wellington has been overtaken this term by the dazzling Lucky Sweynesse. But that’s no demerit, considering that Lucky Sweynesse is currently ranked the joint second-best horse in the world. Only Japanese phenom Equinox rates higher on the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.
Moreover, purely on the local Hong Kong ratings, Wellington is the fifth-ranked horse across all divisions. Aside from Lucky Sweynesse, the others ahead of him are the legendary Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior, and California Spangle.
From that perspective, Wellington commands respect in his first international venture in the June 24 Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot. And there’s precedent for Hong Kong speedsters to take their game on the road here.
Cape of Good Hope, toiling in the shadow of the great Silent Witness at Sha Tin, complimented him by performing well in the 2004-05 Royal meetings. Second in the 2004 King’s Stand (G1) and wheeling back for third in the Jubilee, Cape of Good Hope won the 2005 Jubilee. Little Bridge sprang a 12-1 upset in the 2012 King’s Stand, the year after Sweet Sanette was third as a 16-1 shot in the 2011 edition.
The most recent Hong Konger to try, Gold-Fun, missed by only a neck in the 2016 Jubilee. He represented Wellington’s trainer, British expat Richard Gibson, who compares his current hope favorably.
“He’s a better and younger horse than Gold-Fun, who was very unlucky not to win one,” Gibson told David Morgan of asianracingreport.com.
Gibson has been plotting the Royal Ascot raid for a while, broaching the subject when Wellington captured last December’s Hong Kong Sprint (G1). His pilot that day, British ace Ryan Moore, is booked for the Jubilee.
Bred in Australia and exported as a youngster (“private purchase griffin”), Wellington is by All Too Hard, the legendary Black Caviar’s champion half-brother. Wellington is out of Group 2-placed Mihiri, a More Than Ready mare from a stellar European female line. The extended family includes last year’s Jubilee hero, Naval Crown, as well as recent Epsom Oaks (G1) victress Soul Sister.
Wellington has won 12 of 23 starts, and placed five times, while racing exclusively at Sha Tin. After a promising introductory season when he rattled off a hat trick, he swiftly climbed the class ladder in the first half of 2021, culminating in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1). He’s remained at the Group 1 or Group 2 level ever since.
Again reaching winning form in 2022, Wellington secured the champion sprinter title with a three-race skein. He rolled from off the pace in the about seven-furlong Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) on a good-to-yielding course, beating Waikuku, who was favored off his stunning upset of Golden Sixty in his prior start.
Wellington reverted to his typical about six-furlong trip in the Sprint Cup (G2). By ripping his final sectional (about a quarter-mile) in :21.68, he got up in time to nip Sight Success despite toting joint top weight of 128 pounds. Then he scored a repeat in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, driving from midpack as the favorite.
Wellington began the 2022-23 season in similar form, winning the Oct. 23 Premier Bowl H. (G2) under 135 pounds off the layoff in 1:07.78 on a good-to-firm surface. He gave Lucky Sweynesse 11 pounds that day, but the pendulum would eventually swing to the up-and-comer. Wellington regressed to sixth in their rematch in the Jockey Club Sprint (G2), with the legitimate excuse of a lame right hind leg.
Back to health in time for the Hong Kong Sprint, Wellington regained the winning thread. Lucky Sweynesse was a luckless sixth on the inside, as Wellington had the luxury of building uninterrupted momentum in the clear.
Their fortunes have completely reversed in the interim. Lucky Sweynesse hasn’t lost since, recently extending his spree to six in a row. Four of those came in renewed clashes with Wellington. Second to the new star in the Centenary Sprint Cup (G1), Wellington was dethroned in his spring majors – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, Sprint Cup, and Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
The beaten champ placed in all three, but the nearest he got was one length in the Sprint Cup. Wellington put the cheekpieces back on and got the jump on Lucky Sweynesse, but couldn’t hold him off. The margin exceeded four lengths in the others, most recently his third in the April 30 Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
If not for the spectacular rise of Lucky Sweynesse, Wellington would bring a gaudier resume to Royal Ascot. But the sprinter still has world-class form to his credit. He won over Sha Tin’s straight course going about five furlongs earlier in his career, and his wind-up running style suggests that he’d appreciate the straight six at Ascot.