By David Morgan
Winner’s Way impressed Zac Purton last start with a gate to wire victory at Happy Valley and the former champion jockey is looking for more of the same on Saturday (13 May) in the MacWhinnie Cup Handicap (1400m), the Class 1 feature on Chairmen’s Day at Sha Tin racecourse.
“It was a good effort at the Valley. He did it the whole race - he began well, went along at good fractions and gave a good kick,” Purton said of that dominating Class 2 score over 1650m at the city track on 12 April.
This weekend’s test has a different look altogether as the Tony Cruz-trained Winner’s Way (127lb) steps back down to 1400m against a select field of six talented opponents and off a 9lb higher mark than last time.
“It looks like there might be more pressure in this race so he may not be able to lead,” Purton said of his mount, who will break from gate four. “We might have to just take a sit but we’ll work that out as we go. It looks a competitive race for a small field and I’m sure it’s going to end up that way.”
Factoring in a fine fourth behind Rapper Dragon in January’s Hong Kong Classic Mile, the chestnut ranks highly among this season’s four-year-old crop and Purton is hopeful of maintaining a 100% record on the Australian import as he prepares to partner for a second time. The Starfcraft gelding has already notched three wins from eight starts, including two at the course and distance.
“I’ve only been on him once but he’s shown his versatility and I think at 1400 (metres) he’s sharp enough as long as he begins like he did the other day. It was good to see him get out of the gates and put himself in the good position that he did - 1400 or a mile, I think they’re his pet distances at the moment.”
The Cruz stable will send out another talented four-year-old in opposition. California Whip (119lb), third in last June’s Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot, was a solid fifth to Rapper Dragon in the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1800m back in February but has shown his best form either side of that at 1200m and 1400m.
Last time out, in a Class 1 over the course and distance on 23 April, the Giant’s Causeway gelding was nosed out by the late-closing Midnight Rattler. That opponent, as well as the close third, Lucky Year, will re-oppose on Saturday. California Whip will be 3lb better off with both rivals, with 7lb apprentice Jack Wong booked for Lucky Year (133lb) and Vincent Ho due to claim his 2lb allowance on Midnight Rattler (119lb).
Neil Callan will be aboard California Whip for a sixth time, having passed the reins to Matthew Chadwick for that narrow reversal. The Irishman was up top when the British import landed his sole local win to date, an impressive 1200m performance on the Sha Tin all-weather back in January.
“His form’s been pretty good and he ran well in the Classic Cup over a trip that was a bit far for him. Over his optimum trip, 1400 (metres), he’s been running quite strongly. I did win a 1200 on the dirt in a pretty slick time, so we know the ability’s there,” Callan said.
“He’s pretty adaptable - most of his form is on turf and it’s been very solid behind good horses. The track and trip is probably perfect for him. The small field is ideal because he’s very versatile - he has speed and you can put him where you like. Winner’s Way looks to be the one to beat, he’s a strong opponent but this horse will give him a race. And, I’m more than happy to be riding this horse off a light weight - I do believe he still has a bit more in him.”
The smart field also features the Tony Millard-trained joint top-weight Horse Of Fortune (133lb), winner of the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse handicap (1800m) in November. John Moore will saddle Pablosky (114lb), a smart fourth behind stablemate Magic Legend last start. John Size will rely on the consistent Eroico (124lb), a talented galloper on dirt and turf from 1200m to a mile, fresh for his first start since 1 March and with a good recent barrier trial under his belt.
Prawn’s hot for debut
Saturday’s competitive 10-race card honours Hong Kong Jockey Club Chairmen and kicks off at 1pm with the Chairmen’s Day Plate.
The 1000m straight contest is the second Griffin race of the current season and the Moore-trained juvenile Amusing City (127lb), successful in that opening skirmish on 17 April, will face the horse he beat a short-head, three-year-old Lucky Master (129lb), as well as a slew of first starters, among them Hot King Prawn (120lb).
The Size-trained two-year-old has caught the eye in two barrier trials, the first producing an all-the-way “win” under Joao Moreira in an 800m turf heat, and the second a quiet prep over 1050m on the all-weather with Purton in the saddle.
“Every jockey in Hong Kong would want to ride Hot King Prawn and thankfully John’s come and asked me to ride him, so hopefully we can start off on the right foot,” Purton said of the debutant, a grey son of Denman.
“The goal (in his last trial) was just to show a bit of speed and then let him switch off. Obviously, we didn’t want him doing too much with the quick back-up and the race coming quite quickly. He did what he needed to.”
And Purton is hopeful that the Australian-bred will have enough maturity to come out on top in the nine-runner contest.
“You’d like to think he could win this,” he said. “He showed a bit in that trial and he’s a horse everyone’s talking about - there seems to be a pretty big rap on him - so with that in mind, you’d expect him to go out and get the job done, but until they go out there under race pressure you never quite know what you’re going to get.
“He’s a nice horse, a lovely big horse to sit on and he’s got a good attitude so he’s going to help himself. He’s still only a two-year-old so you’re thinking he’s going to keep getting better as time goes on.”
Saturday’s card concludes at 5.45pm with the Class 3 Stevenson Cup Handicap (1400m).
Winner��s Way makes all under Zac Purton in a Class 2 1650m handicap at Happy Valley.
California Whip (rail side, in blue) suffers a narrow defeat to Midnight Rattler (in white), with Lucky Year (in pink) third, in a Class 1 1400m handicap at Sha Tin last month.