By Andrew Hawkins
It was a day of bat-raising and cap-doffing, in cricketing parlance, for Zac Purton at Sha Tin on Sunday (21 May) as the Australian rider brought up 700 Hong Kong victories with his win aboard Chung Wah Spirit in the featured Class 3 18 Districts Cup Handicap (1400m).
Purton, who first arrived in Hong Kong at the start of the 2007/08 season, has had a fruitful decade that included one jockey championship in 2013/14, as well as links with G1 winners like Ambitious Dragon, Aerovelocity, Beauty Only and Little Bridge.
He now sits fourth in the all-time jockey rankings in Hong Kong, behind Douglas Whyte (1757 wins), Tony Cruz (946) and Brett Prebble (783). However, the 35-year-old says he still hopes to rise higher.
“It’s been a long journey,” Purton said. “When I arrived here in September 2007, I struggled for support early on, I didn’t know anyone and at the weight I was riding, it was hard to compete with the other boys. It took a long time to get some support and get going.
“It’s been a lot of hard work over a lot of years. I’m pretty happy with the way things have gone and it is a nice milestone to get to, but there’s still a long way to go – although I’ll never catch Douglas, I don’t think.”
On Sunday, it was one of Purton’s biggest supporters – trainer Dennis Yip – who gave him his 700th winner, with Chung Wah Spirit grinding to a half-length victory in the 18 Districts Cup. However, the rider feels that the horse is still immature and will continue to improve in the coming months.
“He’s not there yet, but he’s still only a three-year-old,” Purton said of the Dash For Cash colt. “He’s got an engine, but he’s been a bit timid and he hasn’t been beginning well. Even in the mornings, he’s just a long way from being the finished product. He really needs to be gelded and that’s probably going to happen in the off-season.”
Yip applied the blinkers to Chung Wah Spirit for the first time, with Purton indicating that they proved the difference: “We put them on him in a jump-out recently and he flew out of the gates, they really switched him on. So I came here today with a little bit of confidence thinking he was going to produce his best run yet and he did that.”
Chung Wah Spirit provided Purton with his 88th winner of the season to complete a stellar weekend for the rider. On Saturday (20 May), he rode a treble at Macau’s Taipa racecourse, including the Macau Hong Kong Trophy (1500m) aboard Cruz-trained Romantic Touch.
Venture pays off for Yeung, Lee
The Class 2 Lotus Handicap (1600m) shaped as the most intriguing race of the day with a number of potential Group race candidates stepping out. However, it was Almond Lee’s Keen Venture at 41-1 who caused the upset, flashing down the outside to hold out John Moore-trained favourite Booming Delight by three-quarters of a length.
It was Keen Venture’s first win since he took out a maiden on the Geelong synthetic track in Australia, where he raced under the name Tulsa. He contested seven stakes races in Melbourne and Sydney after his maiden win, placing twice, before he arrived in Hong Kong, while he had also placed twice from eight starts in his new home.
Rider Keith Yeung settled the Sebring gelding near the tail in the early stages as a number of rivals pressed forward, a move that gave the local jockey confidence as the race unfolded.
“The fast pace today really suited him, I could sit back and let him relax,” Yeung said. “He’s a horse who needs that, you have to be patient with him, and he was always like that in Australia before he came here too. The more patient you are, the more he will give you at the finish. He’s a horse who likes light weights, too, he’s a skinny horse.”
“I hope he can be a better horse next season, I think he’s still got room to improve. When he first came, he was really nervous, he was very difficult on the mouth and was always uptight. It’s taken a while to get him comfortable, but he seems to be much better now. Hopefully, he will be a proper Class 2 horse next season.”
Trainer John Size continued his march towards a potential new record with a double, courtesy of Giddy Giddy (Olivier Doleuze) in the Class 5 Camellia Handicap (1200m) and Arm Runda (Sam Clipperton) in the Class 3 SKOL Cup Handicap (1200m).
Size reached 80 wins for the season thanks to the brace, opening up a 19-win buffer over second-placed John Moore in the Champion Trainer race with 15 meetings left in the term. However, also in his sights is Tony Cruz’s record of 91 wins in a season, set in 2005/06.
Leading jockey Joao Moreira and apprentice Dylan Mo both scored doubles, with both riders snaring a winner apiece for trainer Danny Shum; Moreira steered 2016 Hong Kong International Sale graduate Gorgeous Again to his fourth win for the season in the Class 4 Carnation Handicap (1800m), while Mo produced a strong front-running effort on Cheerful Boy in the Class 3 Gladiolus Handicap (1600m).
Moreira had earlier won the opening race, the first section of the Class 4 Balsamine Handicap (1200m), on Francis Lui’s Jumbo Luck, who bounced straight to the front and won untouched by three lengths.
“Getting to the front today made all the difference, I feel,” Lui said. “Joao rated him perfectly and hopefully Jumbo Luck can progress now.”
Mo’s first winner was on Richcity Fortune in the Class 4 Balsamine Handicap (1200m), the four-year-old also giving the claimer his first victory for trainer John Moore.
“Getting down to 106 pounds makes all the difference with a horse like him, who is not the strongest,” Moore said. “But obviously, you need a rider who is going to take advantage of the claim, and I think Dylan did that there. I was very happy to see him produce a ride like that, he’s improving all the time.”
Racing returns to Happy Valley on Wednesday night (24 May), with the eight-race card set to get underway at 7:15pm.
Zac Purton drives Chung Wah Spirit home for Dennis Yip to score his 700th win in Hong Kong in the Class 3 18 Districts Cup Handicap (1200m).
Zac Purton is presented with his trophy for winning the Class 3 18 Districts Cup Handicap (1200m) by Law King-Shing, the Duty Chairman of 18 District Councils and Chairman of Kwai Tsing District Council. It was also the rider��s 700th win in Hong Kong.
Keith Yeung celebrates as Almond Lee-trained Keen Venture wins the Class 2 Lotus Handicap (1600m).