By David Morgan
Winner’s Way helped Zac Purton to a five-timer and earned a shot at one of two upcoming Group 3 prizes with a front-running victory in the Class 1 Macwhinnie Cup Handicap (1400m), the feature contest on a rainy Chairmen’s Day at Sha Tin (Saturday, 13 May).
Winner’s Way’s triumph was his fourth from nine Hong Kong starts and followed an impressive make-all score at Happy Valley a month ago.
“He’ll have one more run this season, I think – there are a couple of Group 3 races, one at a mile and one at 1400 (metres) so we’ll look at one of those,” trainer Tony Cruz said, referencing the 4 June Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) and the Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) three weeks later.
“We’ll plan a mile campaign for next season,” he continued. “He’s improving all the time but he’s just a miler; after he ran well in the Classic Mile in January we tried him over 1800 (metres) in the Classic Cup but he didn’t get home, so we didn’t even take him to the Derby.”
A tardy break today meant that Purton had to bustle the four-year-old through the first 100 metres to snare the lead but once there the 1.6 favourite commanded his six opponents. A length to the good turning for home, Winner’s Way (127lb) quickened approaching the 300m point as stablemate California Whip (120lb) emerged from the pack to launch a challenge.
That rival peaked on his run approaching the final furlong, leaving top-weight Horse Of Fortune (128lb) as the principal danger. But the latter’s wide, late charge under Kei Chiong closed the winner’s margin to no less than a length and a half as Winner’s Way clocked a time just inside standard at 1m 21.48s. California Whip took third.
“He’s a nice horse,” Purton said. “Down in the weights in a Group 3, when he gets there he’ll acquit himself well.
“He’s still doing a few little things wrong in the race as well, so I think there’s still some scope there,” he continued. “He gets on his wrong leg going into the corner and gets off-balance; in the straight, he keeps wanting to get out a little bit, so once he straightens those things out and breathes a little bit better, he’ll be alright. It’ll come.”
Winner’s Way’s win sealed an early hat-trick for Purton who was untouchable in the afternoon’s first three contests. The former champion jockey opened with a straightforward score on the much-hyped two-year-old Hot King Prawn in the Chairmen’s Day Plate (1000m) and followed-up aboard the David Hall-trained Hard Ball Get in race two, the Class 4 Cheung Cup Handicap (1400m).
And then, in race seven, the Australian drove the Benno Yung-trained Lucky Dollar to a length and three-quarter success in the Class 4 Li Cup Handicap (1000m); an all-the-way win on the Cruz-trained King Genki in the eighth, the Class 3 Arculli Trophy Handicap (1650m), sealed a first Purton quintet since 26 October, 2014. The rider also drove home three close seconds.
Size debutants deliver
Hot King Prawn was one of two debutant winner’s for trainer John Size. The grey, sent off as a 1.4 shot, obliged with a no-nonsense two and a quarter-length verdict from the front under Purton in 57.12s.
“He’s a nice horse, he did what was expected,” Purton said. “He showed good speed – he’s got a lovely action so he cruised along nicely. It was what you would want to see at a horse’s first start.”
Umberto Rispoli had a very different experience atop Size’s Ivictory in the Class 4 Swaine Cup Handicap. The course, race distance and result might have been the same, but the Italian rider was pumping along in a seemingly tame ninth position at the halfway stage as the Purton-ridden Super Junior surged ahead.
The Mossman three-year-old, a 5.5 chance, responded with a devouring late drive to nick the result by a head in a time of 56.90s.
“Ivictory’s a good horse – he was very green. He didn’t have his action together at the 500-metre mark but when I hit him once he responded very well and was just too good,” Rispoli said.
Chad Schofield halted Purton’s early march when partnering Forever Posh in race four, the Class 4 Purves Quaich Handicap (1650m). The Dylan Thomas gelding had raced 15 times in Hong Kong without success, but, with trainer Richard Gibson in good form, the five-year-old obliged at 9.3. Purton had to settle for second on Namjong Invincible.
Neil Callan teamed with the Moore-trained Agree to land race six, the Class 4 Wong Cup Handicap (1400m). The 7.3 chance clung on by a short-head from the fast-closing Diamond Mysterious under Chiong.
Keith Yeung claimed a first win since 19 February, putting him one shy of his 200th Hong Kong victory, when the Peter Ho-trained Happy Journey lunged late to take the Class 3 Chan Trophy Handicap (1400m).
The track was changed to good to yielding ahead of the finale, the Class 3 Stevenson Cup Handicap (1400m) in which Chiong held off the Purton-ridden, Moore-trained Sunny Way to win the Class 3 Stevenson Cup Handicap (1400m) atop Beauty Kingdom – a third win on the day for the Cruz stable.
Winner��s Way takes the Class 1 Macwhinnie cup Handicap under Zac Purton.
Hot King Prawn impressed on debut in the Chairmen's Day Plate.
Purton seals a five-timer on King Genki (no.1) in race eight.