By David Morgan
Zac Purton kept a cool head aboard 10/1 shot Harbour Master (123lb) to win a hectic edition of the G3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley tonight, Wednesday, 4 January.
The victory gave trainer John Moore a fifth success in the contest (2004 Bull’s Eye, 2007 Famous Dancer, 2013 Military Attack, 2014 Same World), the only pattern race staged at Hong Kong’s city track. And the handler was full of praise for the former champion jockey, who notched a treble on the night.
“It was a gallant win and a good ride from Zac, he stayed out of trouble, and the horse showed a great turn-of-foot,” a beaming Moore said.
“In fact, it was a great ride from Zac, just brilliant. He got out the back, he took his time, he got four back on the fence, he made that little bit of ground up, and, when he came out he could see the formation of things ahead and he got the passage. Everyone inside him was running into dead-ends.”
With Packing Dragon (113lb) dictating the tempo along the back stretch, Matthew Chadwick set the cat amongst the pigeons with a wide surge atop Romantic Touch (129lb). The resultant injection of pace changed the shape of the race as a bevy of animated riders jostled to gain position before the final turn. Purton, though, remained motionless at the rear.
“It was certainly a messy race, there was a lot happening at different stages,” Purton said. “I didn’t have much option from the gate (11) – I had to ride him a little bit conservatively. I was able to track up a little bit, but then there were a few moves and a lot happening and I just had to wait and bide my time. When the split came he showed a good turn-of-foot and a good will to win. He’d been working well so I expected him to run well tonight.”
Harbour Master arrowed home down centre track to collar the Alexis Badel-ridden Circuit Land (126lb) in the final strides, the winning distance a short-head, the time 1m 49.83s. The ever-game Packing Dragon fought on for third, a further neck back under Keith Yeung, as Moore’s luckless Basic Trilogy (116lb) and Joao Moreira had to settle for fourth.
“With a clear run for Basic Trilogy we would probably have had the stable quinella!” Moore added.
Isaac on the up
Harbour Master’s win completed a double for Moore, the trainer’s Isaac having put daylight on the field in race three, section one of the Class 4 Great George Handicap (1200m). The impressive performance confirmed the pre-race opinion of Purton that the lightly-raced four-year-old was racing beneath his level.
“He looks like he has a future!” declared Moore after the gelding had made it two wins on the bounce, at start three. “He’s quickened, and the way he’s done that has shown us that he really is better than this grade, which is what Zac said after he galloped him the other day. He said to me, ‘this one’s better than Class 4’ and it looks like he’s right.”
Isaac had already exceeded the expectations of his handler with a smart breakthrough win at the course and distance last month. The bay did so again tonight, showing maturity to race between rivals early and then keeping tabs on the leader’s outside flank before kicking clear at the top of the stretch to register a two and a quarter-length margin.
“That was a bit of a surprise, from my point of view,” Moore continued. “When he came to us he was very light but he’s developed nicely – physically, he’s really improved. Hinchinbrook is one of the up-and-coming sires on the Australian scene and this horse has proven tonight that he’s still well-placed, even going up to Class 3 next time.
“He was taken on early tonight – Zac thought they’d go on but instead he found himself in the squeeze box there and had to race outside the leader. From about the 900 (metres), Zac said he was able to get him coupled up and get him into a rhythm. That was helpful and the way he’s put the race to bed, I think he’ll continue on his winning way.”
The middle leg of Purton’s three-timer came one race later and it was another master-class from the Australian ace. A sharp advance 900 metres out in the Class 4 Kingston Handicap (1650m) saw Purton fire Casa Master from a position behind mid-rank to steal a clear lead. And the Danny Shum-trained five-year-old maintained a relentless gallop to the wire, scoring by an easy two and three-quarter lengths.
“It’s been a good start to the New Year, so let’s hope it can continue,” Purton said, the hoop having notched a four-timer at Sha Tin on New Year’s Day.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin on Sunday, 8 January, when a small but select field is expected to go to post for the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (Handicap).
Harbour Master (no. 5) pips Circuit Land (obscured) to win the G3 January Cup under Zac Purton.
Zac Purton guides the John Moore-trained Isaac to an easy win in Race 3.