Pick Number One and Ugly Warrior advanced through last season as two rising talents on Sha Tin’s inner dirt loop and will face each other for a second time in the Class 2 Tsuen Lok Handicap on Saturday, 13 October.
The duo went head-to head in a Class 3 at the course and distance back in February, with Pick Number One prevailing by a length and a quarter, despite a concession of 2lb to the runner-up. Zac Purton was atop the winner and sticks with that ally despite having partnered Ugly Warrior to victory on his final outing of last term.
“Pick Number One and Ugly Warrior are very different types of horse,” the champion jockey said at Sha Tin this morning (Friday 12 October).
“Pick Number One is big and strong and gets out and bowls along; Ugly Warrior is more versatile, he can take a sit and he’s more tactical in that sense - he was a lightly-framed horse last season, there wasn’t a lot of him, so if he’s matured and strengthened a little bit in the off-season there’s no reason why he can’t continue to keep putting the runs on the board.”
The two dirt specialists warmed up for their first race this term in consecutive barrier trials at Sha Tin 10 days ago. Pick Number One made every yard in his 1200m heat and clocked 1m 10.53s; Ugly Warrior followed suit, skipping along in front under Vincent Ho and pushed out to draw clear in a time of 1m 11.63s.
Pick Number One, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The times suggest that Purton might have the right pick at the weekend, despite Pick Number One (124lb) being set to concede 4lb to Ugly Warrior, once Ho’s 2lb allowance is factored in. But, for all that, the champion jockey was erring towards caution about a horse that concluded last term with the only dismal run of his seven-race career.
“I’m not convinced Pick Number One is going as well as he was when he was in his best form last season,” he explained. “He hasn’t had a run yet this season so with racing he could improve because he’s a very big, robust horse. He’s going alright in the mornings and not too bad in the trials, but I’d just like him to be going a little bit better, that’s all.
“I’m going there hopeful that he’s going to improve off those trials and show us his best but there’s a little doubt in my mind that maybe he’s not at his best.”
Ho regains the ride on Ugly Warrior, having lost out to Purton at the end of last term. The rider, fresh from a midweek double at Happy Valley, is two from three on Me Tsui’s lightly-raced chestnut.
“Ugly Warrior trialled well but he’s drawn 11 and that means he’ll have to work a bit harder, for sure,” Ho said. “But he should have improved for his trial, and there’s some pace so I can sit in behind them, but it depends on how he jumps.
“He should be able to find more, he’s only four so there’s plenty of time to improve - he’ll get stronger.”
The competitive 12-strong field also features course winners Beauty Prince (126lb), Mega Red (119lb), Patch Baby (119lb), Big Time Baby (118lb) and Perpetual Treasure (118lb), as well as turf 1200m scorers California Fortune (131lb), and Bravo Watchman (125lb).
Fortune Booth (129lb), who passed the post first under Purton in a 1050m batch immediately after Ugly Warrior’s trial on 2 October, will step out in a dirt race for the first time. Calculation (129lb) is a track winner at 1650m but twice failed by only a neck at the trip last term. Eptimum (119lb) completes the line-up.
Champ is happy with his start
Purton, meanwhile, is pleased enough with how his season has started. The defending champion jockey currently has 16 wins from 76 rides, with the season 10 meetings in. That compares favourably to 14 from 69 at the same point last term, which included a return of only three wins from the first five fixtures.
“Things are going pretty well but I’ve had a lot of seconds in there, which is pretty frustrating,” the Australian said. “I started very slowly last season so it’s a case of building your momentum as you go. I’m at a disadvantage because I ride heavier than my competition but it is what it is. I just try and do the best I can with what I’ve got.”
Purton will side with the David Hall-trained Victory Boys (122lb) in Saturday’s other Class 2, the Tsuen Fu Handicap over a mile on turf. The seven-year-old won over 1800m at Happy Valley to wrap up last season and Purton will climb aboard for the first time in a race.
“I haven’t really had much to do with the horse, I rode him one piece of work the other day and he seemed to go ok,” he said. “He’s a long-striding horse, it’s early in the season and it’s not the strongest race so it’s probably the right time to try him at this distance and this track.”
Grant Van Niekerk, on the other hand, will attempt to back-up astride World Record (125lb), the pair having succeeded over 1400m on 2 September, which was the rider’s first race day in Hong Kong.
“He’s a horse with a huge ability and I know he likes to run fresh,” he said. “He switches off and he doesn’t really pull so I don’t think the mile will be a huge difference - he’ll still have the same turn-of-foot.”
The 10-race card starts at 1pm with the Class 4 Chung On Handicap (1000m), a race exclusive to unraced three-year-olds.