By David Morgan
It was all about milestones at Happy Valley tonight, Wednesday, 28 June, as Zac Purton hit a century for the season, Caspar Fownes notched his 400th win at the city track and apprentice Jack Wong reduced his claim to 5lb.
Purton shared the early riding spoils with 10lb apprentice Matthew Poon, the former snaring a treble, the latter a double, through the first five races.
Purton brought up his hundred in the night’s opener, the Class 5 Wong Chuk Wan Handicap (2200m), sauntering across the winning line on the Fownes-trained Premium Champion – Happy Valley win number 399 for the handler. It was the rider’s second triple digit return, having reached 112 when sealing the championship back in 2014.
“It’s hard for anyone to get to 100 winners,” the Australian said, “the stats tell you that, so to get to 100 again is very pleasing, it means I’ve had good support from trainers and owners and things have gone well. Hopefully next season will be the same!”
Purton is one of only three riders to have reached a century in Hong Kong, 13-time champion Douglas Whyte and current standout Joao Moreira being the others. Moreira remained two shy of last season’s record 168 haul after a blank evening.
Two races after Premium Champion’s two and a half-length score at odds of 4.2, Purton clicked to 101 when the Dennis Yip-trained Good Choice took advantage of a smart pace to quicken from deep and surge past toiling rivals in section two of the Class 4 Tai Mong Tsai Handicap (1650m).
“The speed was on and it really played into our hands,” Purton said after the 14/1 shot had clinched his fifth win at the Valley off a quick back-up, having run a solid eighth at Happy Valley last week.
And the former champion jockey made it three on the night aboard the Benno Yung-trained Fortune Bo Bo in race five, the Class 3 Lai Chi Chong Handicap (1200m). The four-year-old showed plenty of grit, responding to a powerful Purton drive to rally and pip the Moreira-ridden Cheer Win by a short-head at odds of 4.1.
“It was a good effort because he stumbled a bit coming out of the gates and had to pick himself up,” Purton said. “No sooner had he just started to relax in front than the other horse (Gracydad) came up outside and annoyed him and sort of ran us into the ground a bit, so my horse showed a lot of heart to then fight again in the straight when he had to. He dug deep.”
Poon, meanwhile, took his tally to 19, one short of the claim-reducing 20-win mark. He kicked off with Go Go Win for trainer Ricky Yiu in race two, section one of the Tai Mong Tsai Handicap (1650m), and then teamed with Fownes in race four, the Class 4 Sham Chung Handicap (1200m), winning atop Grace Heart at odds of 3.5.
400 for Fownes
Grace Heart brought up the 400 for Fownes, renowned as the “King of the Valley”.
“I love this track,” the handler said. “I’ve had a lot of fun here over the years so I’m really happy to get 400, it’s a good landmark to hit and I look forward to getting 500 in the next couple of years.
“Both horses had good chances, they’re in good form. Premium Champion was dropping down to Class 5 and that was a big plus for him. These are horses that have little issues, so it’s just nice to nurture them back into form and get the results for the owners.
“Matthew Poon’s ridden a very good race on Grace Heart, he’s used his head and sat off them, and coming to the corner it looked all over. It was just very easy – he’s riding well so he’s got a good future.”
Poon’s fellow apprentice, Wong, was on the mark with Outlawed for his milepost 45th Hong Kong success. The claimer booted the Yiu-trained six-year-old to a neck verdict over the Purton-ridden Dr Listening to secure race six, the Pak Sha O Handicap (1650m).
Time Warp again
Time Warp set a track record for the 1800m when winning at Happy Valley two weeks ago and the Tony Cruz-trained runner was not far off taking down the 1650m mark when wining the night’s class standout, the Class 2 Hoi Ha Handicap.
Alvin Ng once again did the steering as the strapping four-year-old won from the front, stopping the clock at 1m 38.90s, just 0.20s off the record. The 3.5 joint-favourite drew clear of his fellow market leader, Big Bang Bong, to win by a length and three quarters, with stablemate Super Chic, last year’s G2 Italian Derby winner, running on for third.
“He won well, I was expecting it to be the same thing again, it was another good time tonight,” Cruz said.
“He’s progressing well but he seems to like Happy Valley, maybe more than Sha Tin. The ground here is easier on him. It’s the same with Super Chic - he’ll be better over further but there aren’t a lot of options for him. I expect them both to improve into next season.”
The last, section one of the Class 3 Lai Chi Chong Handicap (1200m), went to Sunny Dragon for trainer Richard Gibson and jockey Keith Yeung. The 18/1 chance dipped his head right on the wire to edge out the Purton-trained Perpetual Joyance.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin racecourse on Saturday, 1 July.
Zac Purton hits a century for the season atop Premium Champion in the opener.
Caspar Fownes (far right) celebrates with connections of Grace Heart after notching his 400th win at Happy Valley.
Time Warp makes all to win the Class 2 Hoi Ha Handicap under Alvin Ng
Apprentice Jack Wong scores his 45th Hong Kong win atop Outlawed.