Romantic Warrior has lived up to his huge international reputation, becoming the fourth northern hemisphere-trained winner of the storied Cox Plate by edging Mr Brightside in a photo finish.
Ridden by James McDonald, Hong Kong’s premier middle-distance galloper surged home to claim Australasia’s weight-for-age championship by a nose.
Cult hero Alligator Blood seized the lead at the turn and was brave in finishing third for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott.
Trainer Danny Shum admitted he lost “a little bit” of confidence after Romantic Warrior was fourth first-up in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes, but always felt the son of Acclamation would improve.
It took the full 2040m for Romantic Warrior to win the $5 million Group 1 feature at The Valley.
“After that (Turnbull Stakes) he was not really ready but he got better day-by-day,” Shum said.
“I was confident he would run a good race. It is a strong race.
“He overcame all of the challenges and the difficulties.”
Shum – dubbed the ‘Iron Man’ in Hong Kong because of his unrivalled work ethic – is the fourth northern hemisphere trainer to win the century-old Cox Plate.
He joins Aidan O’Brien (Adelaide – 2014), Japan’s Yoshito Yahagi (Lys Gracieux – 2019) and Joseph O’Brien (State Of Rest – 2021) on the honour roll.
“It has big meaning for me as a trainer,” Shum said.
“It makes me happy. I’m more happy than I can tell you.”
McDonald, who won last year’s Cox Plate aboard Anamoe, became the first jockey to win the race in successive years on different horses since Michael Clarke in 1989-90.
“I showed belief. This horse is pretty special to me,” McDonald said.
“I mentioned if he came to a Cox Plate he’d be a suitable horse. I meant what I said and credit to (owner) Peter (Lau) and Danny (Shum).
“It takes a hell of a lot of balls to come out of Hong Kong with all the prize money.
“It is one of the best racing jurisdictions in the world and they come here and showcase their boy.”
Ben Hayes, co-trainer of Mr Brightside, admitted he thought his gelding had beaten Romantic Warrior on the line before the photo confirmed otherwise.
“It makes it a little bit worse but he is an absolute superstar,” Hayes said.
“He’s ticked off that 2000m and we couldn’t be prouder of the horse … but we’re pretty shattered.
“Craig (Williams) rode him 10 out of 10 but it’s just frustrating.”
Hayes said he would “love a re-match” as connections consider sending Mr Brightside to Hong Kong.
Earlier, short-priced favourite Imperatriz claimed the $2 million Manikato Stakes with a dominant performance for trainer Mark Walker and jockey Opie Bosson.
The star Kiwi mare made it four wins from as many starts at The Valley, bouncing well and leading from start to finish in her seventh Group 1 triumph.
“I think she had it in the bag a long way from home, really,” Walker said.
“When she went (to the lead) and no one went up to her, I think Opie was probably of the opinion that someone would come around and then he’d take the trail, but no one did.
“I didn’t think he was going too hard up on the speed. He probably thought he’d just stay there.”
I Am Me, with McDonald on board, and Uncommon James filled the minor placings in a six-horse field after Buenos Noches was scratched at the gates.