Top jockey James McDonald has agreed a short-term contract to ride in Hong Kong, opening the door for him to retain his partnership with Romantic Warrior.
The New Zealand rider’s deal runs until January 1, and will allow him to ride the Cox Plate winner in the prestigious Hong Kong Cup next month.
McDonald guided Romantic Warrior to an impressive victory in last year’s renewal before claiming the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in April.
The horse then suffered a narrow defeat in the Champions & Chater Cup under Zac Purton, before finishing fourth in the Turnbull Stakes after being reunited with McDonald.
Romantic Warrior went on to claim a thrilling victory in the Cox Plate and is now the bookmakers’ favourite to secure back-to-back victories in the Hong Kong Cup.
Leading Australian sportsbook Vicbet will be inundated with bets now McDonald has been booked to ride, with their defeat in the Turnbull Stakes the only time he has been beaten on the horse in five outings.
“I can’t wait – I was thrilled the Jockey Club reached out, especially with Romantic Warrior getting ready for his biggest challenge of the year,” McDonald said.
“It gives me the opportunity to trial him. I can come up earlier and do a few gallops on him leading into the Hong Kong Cup. The timing was excellent.
“He’s a ripping horse and I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got a real soft spot for him. He’s an absolute dude to ride. He wears his heart on his sleeve and gives his absolute all every time.”
McDonald will arrive in Hong Kong on the back of an impressive spell in Australia during which he won six Group 1s including the Cox Plate and Victoria Derby and Oaks double.
His five-week spell overseas will also see him represent New Zealand in the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s International Jockeys Challenge at Happy Valley on December 6.
Top British jockey Ryan Moore has also been booked to ride in an event that brings together top-tier jockeys from around the world and pitches them against local talents.
Multiple Group One winning jockey Rachel King will be representing Australia, further adding to the appeal of a meeting that garners massive interest in online betting circles.
However, while the International Jockeys Challenge will generate plenty of column inches, the undoubted headline act over the next few weeks is the Hong Kong Cup.
Romantic Warrior is strongly fancied to win the race for the second successive year and is already in Hong Kong to prepare for the big race.
Trainer Danny Shum was considering running Romantic Warrior in the Group Two Jockey Club Cup on November 19, but believes the race will come too soon after the horse’s quarantine period.
Hong Kong-trained superstar Golden Sixty will also keep his powder dry ahead of a tilt at the Group One Hong Kong Mile on International Day.
The eight-year-old impressed in a recent workout at Sha Tin and could be tough to stop in his quest to win the race for the third time in four years.
Golden Sixty was denied the hat-trick last year after an epic duel with California Spangle and connections are attempting a different approach this time around.
The horse has not run since romping to victory in the Group One Champions Mile in April and will need to overcome a 224-day absence to win the Hong Kong Mile.
No horse has won the race first time up since Glorious Days achieved the feat in 2013, and he did it after running in Japan in June.
The International Mile Trial in November is the usual warm-up race for the Hong Kong Mile, but Golden Sixty will not take in that engagement.
While the eight-year-old looked in great nick earlier this year, it will be intriguing to see whether age has finally caught up with him in December.