Champion jockey Zac Purton took his season’s tally to 123 wins with a masterful four-timer at Sha Tin on Saturday despite feeling under the weather.
“That’s a nice day,” the Australian said. “I’ve got a bit of a cold so I’m not feeling well; it’s a hot day – it’s hard. The winners help and all the horses have run well today.”
His clutch included an easy victory on the exciting young sprinter Big Party (124lb) in the day’s trophy contest, the Class 3 Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Trophy Handicap (1200m).
Trainer Frankie Lor’s galloper began his career with two wins before lameness in his near-fore led to withdrawal from an intended start back in February. A three-month absence ensued and then a dull fifth to Mr Croissant, but this afternoon Big Party had connections celebrating again.
“He did everything right today, he stood in the gates really well, he began really well and he put himself in a nice spot without having to ask him to be there,” Purton said.
The grey broke smartly from gate seven, tracked the lead in second, cruised to the front with 300m to go and lengthened to a three-length score. Debutant Highland Fortune (121lb) posted a smart second, with two-time winner Mr Croissant (118lb) only third this time.
“Once we got into the corner he relaxed and then in the straight he knows what his job is, he grabbed the bit and came up when he was ready,” Purton continued.
Four for Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Big Party has a potentially bright future but the champion jockey – up top for the first time today – was cautious about making big statements, given the gelding’s past issues.
“He lengthened nicely but his action feels a bit stiff from the fast ground – it’s probably not ideal for him. He’s a horse with a history of problems so we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
“I think he just needs a bit of time to develop fully and get over his issues and once he does he has the potential to be a handy horse.”
Lor’s take on Purton’s assessment was positive.
“He had some re-shoeing before and maybe that’s why he was just a little bit uncomfortable in the race,” he explained.
“We’ll see how he is after this race and then we’ll know where we are for future plans.”
Lor and Purton had already hit the mark with Marvelous World. The three-year-old took the Class 4 Unleashing Potential Handicap (1000m) in a class record 55.28s, with a stiff tail-wind.
Purton’s second win came on Hong Kong International Sale graduate Diamond Brilliant (130lb). The Benno Yung-trained four-year-old took the Class 4 JC A-Connect Handicap (1200m) by a short-head from the Vincent Ho-ridden Glittering Armour (118lb).
Uncle Steve took Zac Purton to 123 wins for the season, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Uncle Steve rounded off the Purton quartet in the ninth contest in the Class 3 Age-Friendly City Handicap (1600m).
By that time the rider was feeling the effects of a strenuous day in the saddle, riding with equal measures of determined drive and brilliant judgement. All while the mercury hung out around the 30 degrees Celcius mark.
“It’s been good, capping off with what looks like another progressive horse,” the Australian said.
Purton allowed the John Moore-trained four-year-old to find his feet back in the field of 13 and the gelding responded with a race-winning run down the home straight.
“He’s just starting to learn what it’s about. He’s a stayer that needed to start to learn to relax to give himself a chance,” he said.
Moore praised Purton’s skill: “That was a gun ride. We had to take him back because it was his first time over a mile and I wasn’t sure that being ridden up close from the gate would be ideal. European horses usually need to be given a chance to learn and relax and they’ll just go through the gears.
“He’s a work in progress. He still has to learn how to race and there’s more to come.”
Red Warrior charges wide to defeat stablemate Champion’s Way (obscured), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Champion’s Way (132lb) was a hot favourite to take his perfect winning record to six on the bounce in the finale, the Class 2 Sports For All Handicap (1600m). But trainer John Size’s classy three-year-old was topped by his fast-finishing stablemate Red Warrior under Chad Schofield.
“I still believe he’s a class horse, he’s still done very well,” jockey Joao Moreira said.
“There wasn’t a run on the inside, so I decided to come out, but then it didn’t open on the outside so I had to go back in. I wasn’t on heels, I was building up momentum so I just rolled him back to the inside and he got a beautiful run through, so I can’t complain about the run.”
Size was delighted with Red Warrior’s win but also pleased with Champion’s Way’s effort.
“I thought it was a fantastic effort, 132lb in Class 2 for a three-year-old is always a very good test, he just had to change course a little bit in the straight and he got behind one that wasn’t taking him into it. That might have cost him the win, so I think it was a fantastic effort, I’m really happy with him,” the 10-time champion trainer said.
Schofield positioned Red Warrior back in the field and unleashed a powerful run down centre track to win by a neck.
“It was a surprise,” Size said. “but the horse has been running very well. He’s in good form, obviously, otherwise he wouldn’t have won and his form going back to the Derby and afterwards has been first rate.”
The handler ended the day on 64 wins for the term, seven clear of Lor and eight ahead of Moore with 15 race meetings still to go.
“Seven – well if I can keep winning the races I’ve got a chance, because they’re going to keep coming,” Size said. “They have got plenty of ammo but I just have to keep trying. I’ve been here many times, I’ve been beaten a lot of times and I’ve also won a few.”
Ho, meanwhile, enjoyed a race-to-race double, in tandem with trainer David Hall. London Hall, the 2.7 favourite, edged a three-way finish to the Class 4 Boosting Innovative Power Handicap (1800m), while Gracious Ryder took the Class 4 C-For-Chinese@JC Handicap (1400m) at odds of 20/1.
Trainer Jimmy Ting has made a habit of winning the first race on a card and he teamed with Alfred Chan to take the opening Class 5 Diversity In Education Handicap (1200m). The apprentice made all on Richcity Fortune and had just enough in the tank to notch his fifth win since receiving his Hong Kong licence at the end of March.
Chan bagged his second career brace when Super Wise scooted to victory for trainer Manfred Man in the Class 3 Beyond Arts Appreciation Handicap (1400m).
High Volatility set the pace and then dug deep to repel the Purton-ridden Invincible Missile in the Class 3 Empowering Youth Handicap (1400m). The tough chestnut responded bravely to a power-packed Karis Teetan drive.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 22 May.