Zac Purton is hoping to make hay under the Sha Tin floodlights on Wednesday night with Joao Moreira sitting out the all-weather track fixture due to a riding suspension.
The star jockeys are inseparable on 123 wins for the season in a gripping tussle for the Hong Kong premiership. Purton has a full book of nine rides, and, with a 12% win strike rate on the dirt track this term against the absent Moreira’s 24%, he is hoping to do enough to edge into an outright lead.
“It's a good opportunity to do that, if I can,” the reigning champ said. “The races on the dirt are never easy to win, especially at the night meetings but hopefully a couple can pop up for me and help me. It would be nice to get something if I could.”
Purton and Moreira have been neck and neck on the same win total through the past two meetings, and, after carving up the meat of the weekend action with four wins apiece, Purton admitted to some frustration that his multi-win bounty wasn’t enough to shake off his rival.
“You ride four winners but you walk home feeling a little bit flat,” he said. “If you’d ridden four and he’d ridden none, you'd walk home with a bit of a spring in your step. But it’s competitive and that’s the way it should be.
“We did a similar thing a couple of seasons back when we went bang for bang throughout one of the meetings, so we’ve been there and done it before, so hopefully it’s the same end result again.”
Kings Shield, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The three-time champion is set to partner Kings Shield (126lb) in the evening’s quality event, the Class 2 Egret Handicap (1650m).
The Frankie Lor-trained galloper was impressive when winning at the course and distance last June and has only attempted 1650m on the dirt track once in five outings since. That 1 April effort brought a solid second to the re-opposing Mongolian King (125lb) and Purton now climbs aboard for the first time.
“He did win impressively on the dirt and I thought his run three starts back was pretty good, he’d had a bit of a break and come back; he did a little bit of work but was still there at the furlong, so he’s had that run and he’ll be better for it. He should be a good chance,” Purton said.
Lor is pleased to have the Australian aboard the British import, a winner on Tapeta and Polytrack in England and smart enough to place fifth in the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes (1594m) and sixth in the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (1600m) as a three-year-old.
“He’s come into form so he’s got a good chance and having Zac Purton is always a positive,” Lor said. “The last time he ran at 1650 metres, it was only his third start this season and he wasn’t fully fit so this time he should be better.”
And the handler could look at overseas assignments next term if the Scat Daddy five-year-old can make forward strides.
“Korea or Dubai could be an option in the future because there aren’t many opportunities on the dirt in Hong Kong – maybe we’ll look at Dubai next year,” he said.
Lor also has dirt track specialist Glorious Artist (128lb) in the line-up. The bay, the mount of Derek Leung, returned from a solid fourth in the KOR G1 Korea Cup (1800m) in Seoul to win at the course and distance in December and heads in off a decent turf outing at Happy Valley earlier this month.
“Last time he ran well – usually when he’s on the turf he doesn't go as well, he’s a lot better on the dirt but I still thought he ran a good race. He has already won this season and he’s good on this surface – he’s in good form.”
The Lor pair will face six others in the contest, including the Me Tsui-trained Mongolian King who bids for back-to-back wins under Karis Teetan.
“The horse is in good form and Me Tsui’s horses always do well on the dirt. We just need a good run and that strong finish he showed last time,” the Mauritian said.
“He trialled well last week and of course his win last time was very good. I thought the second horse (Kings Shield) was gone and we wouldn't catch him but then I felt that my horse was only just starting to get build-up – he quickened up well to win a very good race.”
Mongolian King will break from gate four and Teetan is hoping for a similar race-shape to the one that set up his length and a quarter win from gate five.
“I think we’ll get a similar trip to last time but he does have more weight to carry. The way he won, he has to be a chance again but a lot will depend on the speed again. You’d think the speed should be on with Buddies in there,” he said.
The top-rated Buddies (131lb) was third to Mongolian King in the aforementioned race and followed up with a turf win under apprentice Jerry Chau. The John Moore-trained four-year-old will once again have the benefit of Lau’s 10lb claim as he seeks a fourth win on the surface.
Raging Blitzkrieg (125lb), Star Performance (121lb), Cordyceps (119lb) and Noble Steed (118lb) complete the line-up.
The Wednesday night sport starts at 6.45pm with section three of the Class 4 Shearwater Handicap (1200m).
Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club