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Appleby chases history with Rebel’s Romance

Charlie Appleby says Hong Kong is one of the world’s major racing capitals he is determined to crack as he enters his 12th season as a Godolphin trainer and he believes Rebel’s Romance is the right horse to do the job for him in the HK$13 million G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (26 May).

Appleby has won 10 Breeders’ Cup races in the United States, five English Classics including two Derbies, as well as the Melbourne Cup and Sydney Cup, countless big races in Europe and the Middle East, but this superb international CV is lacking a major in the Far East.

His sole attempt at Hong Kong success ended in disappointment when Blue Point trailed in last of nine runners in the 2018 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), beaten many lengths by John Size-trained trifecta, Ivictory, Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock

“It was my inexperience of Hong Kong racing that was the reason for that defeat,” Appleby admits. That year, subsequent to his Sha Tin failure, Blue Point went on to register the first of his two G1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) victories at Royal Ascot.

“We are taking more notice now of what type of horse you need to bring and what will be best suited to the style of races being run.

“Of course, we are not getting that experience first-hand but we are keen observers. Hong Kong is very much on our radar.  It’s very competitive — of course, we all know about the prizemoney, but there is also the prestige of it. 

“You are taking on world-class trainers, who are based in Hong Kong now. They have come from all over the world to pit themselves against a group of talented young locals, who have come through the ranks, having worked for the best. They are also buying well on the international market.

“Another feature of Hong Kong is the number of top-notch horses there are, which from a pool of around 1200 horses, is remarkable.”

Rebel’s Romance is proven Group 1 performer the world over; picture hkjc.com

Rebel’s Romance boasts an impressive global record.  He has won 12 of 18 starts for over £6 million (approx. HK$59 million) in prizemoney. Curiously, his first six races were exclusively on dirt or artificial surfaces. 

At six years of age, Rebel’s Romance is racing as well as ever. His last start resulted in triumph in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) at Meydan on 30 March.

“He’s been a star to date,” Appleby reports. “He’s a multiple Group 1 winner in many countries, Germany, America, Qatar and Dubai, and he has been a model of consistency this season. 

“His preparation for the Champions and Chater has gone well.  It’s a race we have always had our eye on. We’ve always felt the conditions would suit one of our horses.

“One of the challenges is going to be the travel. It’s not as if he doesn’t like travelling — he’s won all over the place — but this is the furthest he has ever been.  If he copes with that OK, we feel we have the right horse to be competitive,” he adds.

Appleby and Rebel’s Romance’s jockey William Buick are due to arrive in Hong Kong on Saturday 25 May. Both will have finalised their Epsom Derby plans at that point, with the Classic on 1 June appearing wide open following a series of inconclusive trials in recent weeks.

Godolphin hopes now rest solely on Ancient Wisdom, who although well-beaten into second in the Dante Stakes at York last week, could still line up in the big race. “We will see if he makes improvement after his trip to York,” his trainer points out.

Appleby saddled Hidden Law to win the Chester Vase impressively, only to see the colt — who would have been Derby favourite off the back of that run — break his leg a few strides past the line and have to be put down.  Another hopeful, Arabian Crown, has suffered a setback and will miss Epsom, too.

While Appleby has yet to win a race in Hong Kong, the Godolphin stable has indeed had its share of success. Saeed bin Suroor sent out winners in the famous Royal Blue colours in the Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Mile, Vase and QEII Cup, the most recent being Mastery in the Vase 14 years ago.

This weekend, Appleby will hope to add his name to the honour roll of one of Hong Kong’s most famous races.

Sha Tin’s 10-race card on Sunday (26 May) starts at 12.45pm with the Pakistan Star Plate (1200m) for Griffins.

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