By David Morgan
Joao Moreira has never hidden his regard for Beat The Clock (128lb) and the champion jockey was verging on the effusive after the rising star posted a smart victory in this afternoon’s feature race at Sha Tin, the Class 2 Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m).
“I’ve been indicating that I think he’s a very nice horse, one of those up-and-coming horses, and I’m convinced we’re going to see him in Group races sooner rather than later,” Moreira said after the John Size-trained three-year-old landed his fourth win at start eight in a time of 1m 21.82s.
The Hinchinbrook gelding was sent off the 1.7 favourite, and, after a tardy break, had the innate speed to track the pace-setting Adventurer (123lb), albeit in a breeze-facing wide position.
“He had to do it the tough way today, three-wide and exposed, but he was just too strong,” Moreira continued.
When the rider shook his reins at the top of the home stretch, Beat The Clock responded with a smart change of gear that took him past the leader and on to a cosy length and a quarter score. It was all hands and heels in the final 100m.
“He wasn’t very fast out of the gate but once he got going he put himself in a very close position,” the Brazilian said. “I wish I could have had cover to get him a little bit more relaxed but despite that he was very professional, and when I asked him to get going he responded.
“The fact that he’s only a three-year-old, that’s what makes me even more excited, because it feels like there’s plenty more inside him, and, based on that, I’m confident that he’s a Group class horse. He’s a very nice horse going forward.”
The win took Size to 89 for the campaign, just two short of Tony Cruz’s Hong Kong record of 91 wins in a season. Moreira sits on 157 after a double today, 11 short of the record he established last year.
Meanwhile, chasing Beat The Clock in second place, Limitless (132lb) once again flagged that he is a galloper of serious ability. The Lope De Vega gelding did plenty wrong on his first start for the Caspar Fownes stable, refusing to settle at the tail over the seven-furlong trip.
Zac Purton allowed last year’s Britannia Handicap (1600m) winner to creep forward on the turn; three lengths down at the swing into the straight, the four-year-old rifled home to finish second in 22.33s, compared to Beat The Clock’s 22.45s. Happy Agility (114lb) took third.
Trainer Chris So welcomed his first four-time winner of the campaign after the treble-scoring Purton utilised Best Reward’s ample stamina to take race four, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Medicine Handicap (2200m).
The Holy Roman Emperor gelding may not hit the same level as his half-brother Roseburg, third in last season’s G1 Coronation Cup (2400m), but the bay has clearly inherited plenty of staying power from his dam, the In The Wings mare Raydaniya.
“I’m very impressed with the horse,” So said after the 3.9 favourite had notched his fourth win on end at start 17. “When we got him, the owner told me he was a good horse – I thought the horse was useful and we just needed patience because he needed distance. Now he’s won two on dirt and two on the grass. I thought he’d keep on winning, he needed to go further and you can see the way he runs that he was going to get better up in distance – if he went 2400 (metres) he’d still win.”
Few would argue with that opinion after watching the five-year-old gallop three and a half lengths clear of his 12 opponents this afternoon, stopping the clock at 2m 14.84s, despite shouldering 132lb.
“He’s improved a lot – you can see that from his trackwork,” So continued. “I was a little worried about the weight he was carrying but I thought he’d be alright because he’s a strong horse, almost 1100 pounds.
“The first section was a bit fast and then it slowed down and you could see he was different compared to his last couple of runs, the horse was happy and he’s come up and relaxed again, and at the 600 he’s been able to go again.”
Best Reward ranked last heading into the first turn after breaking from stall 11 but, when Jolly Amber (103lb) took the lead and slackened the pace at the head of the backstretch, Purton allowed his mount to roll. The Irish-bred advanced three-wide, slipstreaming the forward-moving Garlic Yeah (122lb) to sit second outside that rival on the top turn and then grinding by with 250m to go.
“They steadied up, which enabled him just to cruise past them without doing too much and he doesn’t stop,” Purton said. “Stamina – that’s his asset.”
Purton notched the second leg of his treble atop 21/1 chance Perpetual Joyance for Size in race six, the Class 3 HKU Faculty of Science Handicap (1200m). The rider played the role of super sub after Sam Clipperton was injured and stood down – his mount, Grade One, withdrawn – after an incident in the starting gate before race five. And he completed his three-timer in the last, the Class 3 HKU SPACE Handicap (1600m) atop the John Moore-trained Go Beauty Go, another spare resulting from Clipperton’s mishap. Purton is now just eight shy of his second Hong Kong century, with nine meetings remaining this term.
Treasure strikes at last
Immediately after Clipperton’s misfortune, Umberto Rispoli edged a will-he-won't-he duel to the wire in the Class 4 University Hall Handicap (1600m). The Italian’s mount Po Ching Treasure (118lb) slipped up the inside rail to head the Moreira-ridden favourite Infinity Endeavour (129lb). But once there, the Caspar Fownes-trained gelding seemed to have second thoughts as the Size-trained 2.9 favourite rallied, only to fail by a nose on the nod.
“He got there and then he just thought he’d done enough and tried to stop,” Fownes said after watching the 14/1 shot break his Hong Kong maiden at start 39. “He’s got it in him to win again… but you wouldn’t hold your breath!”
Moreira kicked off his double with a fine piece of jockeyship on the Michael Chang-trained Silly Buddies in race three, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Business & Economics Handicap (1200m, all-weather).
“If I didn't have Joao today, honestly, I don't think the horse would have won. He gave it the perfect ride,” Chang said after the 4.7 shot had quickened up the inner to score by a length.
Apprentice Matthew Poon teamed up with trainer Benno Yung to land a double: the duo took the first, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Architecture Handicap (1000m) with 7.9 chance Lunar Zephyr and teamed up again in race eight to win the HKU Faculty of Engineering Handicap (1200m, all-weather) with 8/1 top-weight Perpetual Treasure (133lb).
Fellow 10lb apprentice Dylan Mo took race two, the Class 5 HKU Faculty of Dentistry Handicap (1200m, all-weather) aboard the Peter Ho-trained Massive Move, a 19/1 shot.
So doubled up with the Derek Leung-ridden Classic Emperor in an eventful race nine, the Class 3 HKU Faculty of Arts Handicap (1400m). Jockeys Keith Yeung and Ben So both hit the turf after Yeung’s mount, Victory Day, hit the inside rail and pitched his rider, resulting in jockey So being unseated from Mr Potential.
Hong Kong racing will resume at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 14 June.
Beat The Clock impresses with his win in the Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup Handicap under Joao Moreira.
Zac Purton guides Best Reward to a fourth straight win in the HKU Faculty Of Medicine Handicap.