By David Morgan
Zac Purton is looking to Best Step (121lb) to once again put his best foot forward. The lightly-raced three-year-old is on for a hat-trick in the finale at Happy Valley on Wednesday (14 June) night, the Class 3 Staunton Handicap (1200m).
“Best Step hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, he’s still got a little bit left in him,” Purton said this morning (13 June), during a heavy rainstorm at Sha Tin that forced the regular Tuesday barrier trials to be rescheduled for tomorrow.
The Caspar Fownes-trained gelding is set to compete off a mark of 68, fully 15 points higher than when landing a maiden victory two outings back at his fourth career start. That breakthrough win came in a 1000m dash at the city venue, with Purton in the plate, and Best Step followed up under Karis Teetan on 17 May with a make-all win at Wednesday’s course and distance.
Purton is back aboard for a fourth time and is hopeful that the Cecconi gelding is maturing at a rate that matches the handicapper’s imposts.
“He’s obviously a horse that had a few tricks to start with; he was slow from the gate and kept giving away a start, but then he worked it out and now he’s jumping out of
the gate and that’s putting him in the right spot; that’s making it a lot easier for himself,” the former champion jockey said.
“He’s put a couple of good wins together now and he’s still a relatively lightly-raced, inexperienced horse that you’d think would just keep progressing.”
The eight-race card’s closer has attracted a competitive field of 12 that also includes the Ricky Yiu-trained Cheer Win (116lb), the mount of Joao Moreira. The Brazilian ace has partnered the three-year-old three times previously for one win and two seconds.
Gate 10’s a charm for Speedy
In the evening’s penultimate contest, the Class 2 Wyndham Handicap (1800m), Neil Callan will side with an old ally in Speedy Longwah (126lb) and the rider is not fazed by the five-time course winner’s wide draw in gate 10 of 12.
“When he had his rich vein of form last season - I won three on him - most of his best runs were when he was drawn wide,” Callan said.
In fact, three of Speedy Longwah’s career wins, all at 1650m, have come from gate 10 and Callan believes a wide draw might favour Danny Shum’s charge, last season’s Happy Valley Million Challenge winner.
“He jumps well but he’s just short of natural early speed, but then he works up onto the bridle quite nicely,” the Irishman said. “At least if he’s outside he can just roll up
and I don’t have to dig him up too much. When horses around him are a little bit
faster than him he gets shuffled further back than where I want him to be, which happened to him last time.”
Speedy Longwah ran on well from mid-pack last start to finish three-quarters of a length fourth, just behind the re-opposing Packing Dragon (133lb), Big Bang Bong (118lb) and the fast-closing Friends Of Ka Ying (121lb). That was the six-year-old’s third attempt at the 1800m distance.
“In his last race, he still hit the line strongly,” Callan said. “Now he’s a little bit older, more mature, up the ratings, I think 1800 is perfect for him. I believe, on his track work and trials, he’s still in great form and I think he’ll run a strong race.”
Callan will maintain his partnership with the Derek Cruz-trained Good Companion (130lb) in race five, the Class 4 Lyndhurst Handicap (1200m). The rider was up top for the first time last start when the four-year-old was two and a half lengths fifth to Love Chunghwa at the course and distance.
Good Companion sported first time blinkers on that occasion but Cruz, seeking his seventh win of the campaign, has removed the gear this time. Callan believes that to be a positive move.
“I just thought last time I rode him he jumped and got a nice spot but he felt like he wasn’t mature enough for the blinkers,” Callan revealed. “They did the job and got him out from the gates and got a position, but when I came to the business end I just felt that he wasn’t able to get himself together and finish the race strongly.”
The Exceed And Excel gelding opened his account over the course and distance at start three, back in January, and Callan feels the Australian-bred still has upside with only six runs on the board.
“He’s still only a young horse, he’s still progressing and still learning,” he said. “I think the blinkers going on for one run has just woken him up a little bit and hopefully coming back off will give him a chance to return to his winning ways.
“He’s still a work in progress,” Callan continued. “He won early on in the season and he did have all of the favours when he did win but he’s still got a little bit of improvement and can still strengthen up. He’s a chance on Wednesday - I couldn’t say he’ll definitely win but I’m hoping he can!”
The eight-race card kicks off at 7.15pm with the Class 4 D’Aguilar Handicap (1650m). The night’s trophy race is the Class 3 Sports Club Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m), which sees last season’s G2 Italian Derby (2200m) winner Super Chic shoulder top-weight of 133lb as he pursues a first Hong Kong win at start five.
Best Step lands back-to-back victories over 1200m at Happy Valley last start.
Speedy Longwah won a Class 2 contest with Alexis Badel on board earlier this season.