There have been few races in recent years that have offered a crystal ball into the future like the Class 1 Sha Tin Mile Trophy Handicap (1600m), and jockey Zac Purton hopes that Rise High can stamp himself as a potential top-liner when he contests the feature at Sunday’s Season Finale at Sha Tin.
Five of the last six winners of the traditional season-ending highlight have gone on to Group 1 success the following term: Dan Excel (2012), Designs On Rome (2013), Contentment (2015), Helene Paragon (2016) and Time Warp (2017). In fact, all five had not won a G1 at the time of their Sha Tin Mile Trophy triumph, but all were subsequently multiple winners at the highest level.
The Caspar Fownes-trained Rise High has been a late-season revelation. He took time to acclimatise to Hong Kong, meaning that he missed all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series earlier this year, but his last two victories – both over the Sha Tin 1600m – have suggested that he is a horse with a bright future.
“His last win was good and he showed that he’s a horse heading in the right direction,” Purton said. “He’s progressive, but whether he can get to the highest level remains to be seen. He’s quite a lightly-framed horse and I think with the benefit of the off-season, if he can put on a little more weight and strengthen up, we might see the best of him. His racing manners have improved, he used to overrace quite badly when he first got here but he has learnt to chill.
“He’s working his way towards being a nice horse and this is just another stepping stone for him. He’s obviously not quite there yet, but he’s lightly-raced and it’s still all ahead of him.”
Zac Purton steers Rise High to his second consecutive win at Sha Tin in May, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Since that last victory on 20 May, Rise High has trialled on the Sha Tin dirt; settling last early, he weaved through the field before racing clear with promising three-year-old Hezthewonforus, eventually holding the call at the wire. However, Purton was frank, suggesting that he expected more from the hit-out.
“I thought the trial the other day was a little bit below how he was going before his last win,” Purton said. “He has had a little bit of a freshen-up and Caspar felt that the trial would really bring him on. I felt like it probably needed to though and hopefully it has. He’s a pretty clean-winded horse, he does come to hand pretty quickly so I’m sure Caspar’s going to turn him out in great order on the weekend.
“Now all we need is to draw a nice gate and hopefully we can get a nice run.”
Purton’s wish was granted on Thursday when Rise High (119lb) drew gate two in the 10-horse field. Fownes is also represented by G3 winner Joyful Trinity (124lb), with Chad Schofield taking the ride.
Among their chief rivals is the Tony Cruz-trained Doctor Geoff, who Rise High beat by a neck last time out. However, thanks to a wide-margin victory over the Happy Valley 1800m since with Purton in the saddle, Doctor Geoff (120lb) meets Rise High 10lb worse at the weights from their last clash. Purton’s premiership rival Joao Moreira takes the mount on the Fast Company four-year-old.
Cruz also saddles up G1 winner Romantic Touch (126lb), while the Francis Lui-trained top-weight Born In China (133lb), the John Size-prepared pair Dinozzo (132lb) and Prawn Baba (126lb), Ricky Yiu’s Jolly Banner (129lb), Super Fluke (119lb) for Dennis Yip and John Moore’s Rivet (113lb) complete the line-up.
The Sha Tin Mile Trophy is the eighth of 11 races and is set to jump at 4.05pm.
Purton enters the Season Finale four wins ahead of Moreira in the Champion Jockey race and given that a tiebreak would fall his way, he has essentially a five-win buffer.
However, until his second championship is a statistical certainty, Purton is reluctant to declare victory, recalling the 2012 LONGINES International Jockeys Championship, when Moreira came from the clouds on the Peter Ho-trained Noble Deluxe to win the title, essentially denying the Australian by a nose.
“Joao’s book is strong and I know he’s capable of riding three, four, five winners on any given day,” Purton said. “I still have in my memory when he launched from nowhere like a ghost, as he was known in his homeland, and he pipped me on the line for the International Jockeys Championship. I haven’t forgotten that, so I want the post to come, that’s for sure.”
Both Purton and Moreira have a full book of 11 rides.
The Season Finale meeting kicks off with the Class 5 Medic Kingdom Handicap (1800m) at 12.30pm, with the closer, the Class 2 Hong Kong Racehorse Owners Association Trophy Handicap (1400m), scheduled to bring the curtain down on the term at 5.50pm.