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Wellington justifies Richard Gibson’s faith with stunning Chairman’s Sprint Prize triumph

April 26, 2021 at 8:42:06 AM

Trainer Richard Gibson won his second HK$18 million G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m) today (Sunday, April 25) at Sha Tin with potentially excellent four-year-old Wellington, as Japan's race favorite Danon Smash performed below expectations.

The Australian-bred gelding, a PPG (Privately Purchased Griffin) for Mr and Mrs Michael Cheng Wing On and Jeffrey Cheng Man Cheong, was the least qualified runner in the 13-horse field, having competed in a G1 for the first time and being ridden by Hong Kong-based Frenchman Alexis Badel, who had not previously ridden in any FWD Champions Day G1 races.

Wellington won his seventh race in ten starts and his sixth in seven at the course and distance, adding to Gibson's earlier performance with Gold-Fun in 2015.

Wellington finished strong from midfield, running his final 400 metres in a blistering 21.66secs to beat out front-runner Computer Patch, who had been highly ranked by Matthew Chadwick. The winning margin was a decisive one and a half lengths, with the same distance between second-placed Sky Field and third-placed Sky Field under Blake Shinn.

Gibson's charge, the 23rd Australian-bred champion, became just the fourth four-year-old to win the prestigious, now Group 1 prize, succeeding Silent Witness (2004), Sacred Kingdom (2008), and Ivictory (2009). (2018).

The trainer will now offer the horse the chance to match Hong Kong sprinting idols Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom by heading for the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) – a race won twice by one of the former stars following Chairman's Sprint Prize success.

“He'll have a nice break, and we'll see you here in December,” Gibson said, pleased that Wellington had won with his faithful owners.

“It's a fantastic victory for Hong Kong,” he added. “It's great to see the fans back today, and I'm overjoyed for the owners. When I first arrived here, they were one of the first owners in my barn. They've been very loyal and welcoming, and it's a real pleasure to have found and delivered such a wonderful horse. He was sourced from the trials and came from Australia.

“I always thought we'd get to the winning enclosure, but the journey is a little rough, and life is never easy, but it's nice to get there in the end.”

Wellington recovered from an uncharacteristic defeat in the G2 Sprint Cup (1200m) on April 5.

“It's impossible to conceal the disappointment on those days, but we believed in our team and our horse, and he delivered today.

“As a mentor, you must accept the rough with the soft. We are very optimistic in what we do with our horses in Hong Kong, and with a win like today, we expect to strengthen our stable,” he added.

Badel, France's champion apprentice in 2007 and in his fourth riding stint in Hong Kong, was naturally overjoyed with his greatest achievement in his adopted country.

“It's a fantastic moment for me because I've known this horse since last season and he's really been wonderful to me. He's shown me a couple of winners, and I'm just so proud and grateful to be back on him because it's never easy to get on a strong horse here and win a major race like that.

“It's awesome, and I'm grateful to his trainer, Richard Gibson, because he's been really nice to me. He has been a huge supporter of mine since my first season here, and it feels great to perform on such a big day,” Badel said.

Badel's ability to get the horse to relax better than in his previous start was crucial to his victory.

“He had a fantastic flight. The horse was much more comfortable than the previous time. Last time, the draw was a little tough, and the field was also faster, so it was difficult for me to calm the horse without giving ground.

“I had a great race today, only close to the mark and more comfortable, and when I placed a little pressure on my horse, he reacted very well. He's a top-class horse in my opinion, and he just proved it today,” Badel said.

Danon Smash, who won the 2020 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) last December, started slowly and was rode hard throughout by Joao Moreira, finishing fourth by four lengths.

“At the 600m, he was under strain – there was nothing there,” Moreira said.

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