By David Morgan
A treble at Happy Valley two weeks ago set Zac Purton’s ball rolling for the current season and initiated a run of form that sees the former champion jockey now five clear in the premiership with a tally of nine wins after four meetings. Back at the city track on Wednesday night (20 September), the Australian ace will team up again with the horse he steered to the middle leg of that three-timer, Victory Marvel, as he aims to extend his hot streak.
The second season galloper opened his career account at start five when scoring by a relatively comfortable three quarters of a length for Purton in a 1200m Class 4 last start, and a 7lb hike for that win will see him line up at the same course and distance in race three, the Class 4 Lam Tin Handicap. But with 132lb to shoulder this time, does the Caspar Fownes trainee have what it takes to follow up?
“I hope so,” Purton said. “With any race at the Valley it’s just a matter of getting the right run.
“Last time he just found himself in the right spot, he had a nice run in the race and it was good to see him get the job done. From the draw (gate five), hopefully we’ll get a similar run again and then there’s no reason why he can't go back-to-back.
“He was always going to be better this season - he had a couple of starts, had a break and then came back - he’s more mature now,” he added. “He’s not overly hot, he’s quite switched on and knows what he’s got to do and that’s important around the Valley.”
Fresh from a stunning four-timer at Sha Tin on Sunday, Purton is currently riding at an impressive 32% win strike rate and with Joao Moreira sidelined for a second meeting due to suspension, the 2013/14 champion has another opportunity to make hay. But with 84 meetings ahead and given Moreira’s phenomenal tallies in claiming the crown in each of the past two seasons, the rider is not getting carried away.
“My feet are still on the ground but it’s a nice start,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s myself, Joao or anyone else, if you’re not on the right horses you can’t ride winners and fortunately for me my horses have run well early in the season.
“I’ll just take it one meeting at a time - there’s no use worrying about championships this far out, although you always have to have it in your mind. You just need the support. If my stables do well then I’ll do well and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Purton is also hoping that Good Choice can defy top-weight of 131lb in race four, the Class 4 Ngau Tau Kok Handicap (1650m), which will be the gelding’s first outing for trainer Dennis Yip. Good Choice scored twice at the course and distance from 39 starts for Sean Woods.
“Good Choice is only small and he’s got to carry a big weight, which is a concern,” said the jockey. “He’s drawn a little bit awkwardly (gate eight) so I’m going to have to sum it up and see where we can slot in. But his trial was good, his work’ s been good and he’s with a new yard now so he should be a little bit fitter and hopefully that brings out the best in him. It looks like it could be messy so we just need the breaks to go our way.”
Purton guided Good Choice through an eye-catching trial around Happy Valley on 2 September when the six-year-old closed off sweetly to second behind Verbinsky in a 1200m heat.
“I was impressed with way he finished it off the last bit,” he said. “I’ve ridden him before and previously he’s only sprinted for 200 metres and then flattened right out, whereas in the trial - and it was only a trial - he ran right through the line.”
With three wins in the bag Nash Rawiller has made a solid start to the season and the Australian is optimistic that a good recent trial is indication that Presidentparamount (124lb) is primed for a big effort in race six, the Class 3 Cha Kwo Ling Handicap (1200m). The Danny Shum-trained six-year-old has notched four career wins, all at Sha Tin and all over 1400m, but the drop back to 1200m at the Valley is not concerning Rawiller.
“He’s in very good form,” he said. “He’s coming off a nice trial, a close up second when I let him just bowl along on the dirt, and I thought his fitness would improve from that trial. In the little bit of work he’s done since he feels like he’s improved and he goes to the races fit and well.
“Off his trial, I don’t think 1200 will be a problem - as long as that hasn’t taken the edge off him, but his track work doesn’t suggest it. He has the blinkers on and he’s the sort of horse you can give a bit of a squeeze out of the barriers and a quicker tempo might suit him. I’m not concerned - I think he’s ready for a strong 1200.”
More of an issue for the New Zealand-bred could be gate eight. “Barrier draws at the Valley are gold and he’s got a sticky one,” Rawiller observed, “but all I can say is the horse has done all he can to impress us leading in to the race.”
Wednesday’s Happy Valley card commences at 7.15pm with the Class 4 Tiu Keng Leng Handicap (1800m) and concludes with the Class 3 Kwun Tong Handicap (1650m) at 10.50pm.
Victory Marvel opens his account at Happy Valley two weeks ago with Zac Purton on board.
Good Choice (No. 4) scores over a mile at the city track back in November 2014.