Zac Purton heads to Happy Valley on Wednesday night looking to banish memories of Beauty Generation’s shock weekend defeat with a couple of smart rides in Class 2.
Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year met with his first reversal in 18 months when only third behind 16/1 winner Rise High in Sunday’s G2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) but Purton is looking forward not back.
“It’s the same race as last year, when he nearly got beat - it’s a bogey race for him,” he said. “It’s because they have so long off in the off-season and he runs so well first time out, and then has to back up very quickly after that.
“The edge is just off him and that, I’m sure, contributed to his performance. He has a nice break between now and his next race, and let’s not forget, last season he broke the track record at his third run in so I expect him to bounce back.”
Purton has a full book of nine rides on Wednesday, including the mount on Yee Cheong Baby (133lb) in the Class 2 Ivictory Handicap (1200m). Jimmy Ting’s charge returned with a fifth-place effort first-up for the season on the dirt track but looked impressive when drawing 14-and-a-half-lengths clear in a recent barrier trial.
“We did see Voyage Warrior win a trial by 10 (lengths) and he got whopped. Those trials sometimes can be deceptive and they both trialled on the same morning: there was a very heavy leader’s bias and they’re both similar horses that like to roll along.” Purton said.
“The margin was extremely flattering, especially when you look at the depth of the horses he was up against in that trial. But I thought he went through his work nicely and he’ll be better for his first-up run.”
A two-year-old victor at Rosehill pre-import, the Sebring gelding finished second at G3 level behind Graff, who subsequently earnt just over A$1 million and placed at G1 level, as well as finishing fifth in The Everest (1200m) at Randwick in 2018.
Yee Cheong Baby won his first two starts in Hong Kong, both at the Valley, before failing to sparkle on dirt last time, after which he was found to have blood in his trachea.
“I just think 1200 (metres) on the dirt was testing for him first time out. He comes back to the grass after he’s already had a run and he’s had another trial since, so I think he’ll probably be better placed this time,” Purton said.
Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Talent for Purton
Purton will partner Not Usual Talent (133lb) in the night’s other Class 2, the Green Luck Handicap (1650m).
Purton hasn’t ridden the Zacinto gelding on race day but has liked what he has seen and got a handle on the three-time winner in a recent gallop.
“He was impressive last season. I’ve ridden him one piece of work this season, he’s quite a keen-going horse in the mornings which is why he’s been more effective in fast-run races,” Purton said.
Benno Yung’s charge heads into Wednesday’s nine-runner contest in search of a third consecutive win, after putting in two fast-finishing victories to round out last season.
“In this race we've got a small field and the likelihood of a slow pace, which won’t suit him so that’s my concern,” the rider said.
Against Not Usual Talent is a horse Purton won on twice last season, the John Moore-trained Helene Charisma (133lb). The French G1 winner returns to Happy Valley in search of his fourth success at his favourite track, as well as back-to-back scores, and re-associates with recent G2 Premier Bowl-winning jockey Grant van Niekerk.
“I’m running him over a distance short of his best because he loves Happy Valley. If we run him in that 1800 (metres) coming up at Sha Tin the ground is too firm for him at the moment, because of the weather and the time of year,” trainer John Moore said.
The handler has two in the race, with Matthew Chadwick seeking back-to-back wins on last-start winner Happy Dragon (125lb).
“The horse has done everything right,” Moore said. “He’s drawn gate two so he’ll be able to sit midfield and his work rider says he’s fitter than last time.”
The Frankie Lor-trained Ruthven (132lb), a G1 winner over 2200m in Australia, has failed to win since March 2018 but will break from gate 9 in search of a drought-breaking victory. Regan Bayliss will be in the plate.
“It doesn't look like there’s a lot of speed on paper; he’s got good natural gate speed so we could find ourselves in the first three and hopefully get a good run in transit and maybe be there at the finish.” Bayliss said.
Le Terroir on the rise
Le Terroir (129lb) has found his groove in Hong Kong having won three of his last four races, all over 1200m at Happy Valley.
That tally includes an emphatic performance first-up this term and he will aim to back-up in the Class 3 Speed Vision Handicap (1200m).
Joao Moreira hopped on the Peter Ho-trained Star Witness gelding for the first time last start for an easy two-and-three-quarter length score. The Brazilian is up against two rivals he has already won aboard this season, Monkey Jewellery (123lb) and Smart Leader (132lb).
“It is a strong field but with the way my horse won last start - it’s very hard to let it go and not ride him again,” Moreira said.
The galloper was upped 10 ratings points for that win to a mark of 72, having dropped to 47 before his smart streak began four starts ago.
“Unfortunately from that win he was heavily punished by the handicapper - but it is what it is and hopefully he can overcome that and do it again,” the three-time champion jockey said.
Ho’s four-year-old appears to have found his niche as a three-time victor over 1200m at Happy Valley from eight attempts. The speedy runner will break from barrier one this time.
“He’s such a big strong horse, he’s only four so he’s still developing but he’s on the way up from last time, I’m definitely going to the races with as much confidence as I can have,” Moreira said.
“I was expecting him to win (last time) as he was doing so well in his trackwork but I didn’t expect him to win that well,” Moreira said.
Wednesday’s nine-race card commences at 6.45pm with the Class 5 Glory Star Handicap (1650m).
Joao Moreira, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club