By David Morgan
Joao Moreira's fondness for My Darling's (133lb) qualities sees the champion jockey side with the John Size-trained galloper for an eighth time in Saturday's feature, the Class 2 Hong Kong Reunification Cup Handicap (1400m), and he is hopeful that the four-year-old's class will offset a hefty impost.
"My Darling's the best horse in the race and if he gets beat it will only be because of the handicap system - he's gone up in the ratings and he carries a big weight. There are horses in there that are still on the way up and they're carrying lighter weights than him," Moreira said at Sha Tin this morning (Friday, 30 June).
The Brazilian, currently two shy of matching last season's benchmark 168 wins in a season, guided the Mossman gelding to a smart success at the course and distance five weeks ago, but that triggered an eight-point rise in his rating to a mark of 100. That ensures top-weight for the Australian-bred, a five time winner from 1000m to 1400m and highly-tried earlier this term when down the fields in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).
"This horse is quite strong, he's big and strong, so I think he's one of those horses that are able to carry a big weight and run well," Moreira observed.
"He's improving and he's got fresh legs, he's only had two runs since he had a break after the Derby in March and I don't think those two races have been enough to tire him out, so I think he's going to be straightforward. He's going to be right there on the pace, like always, and he's going to be strong."
My Darling overcame gate nine last time, facing the breeze outside the pace-setting Bullish Smart before kicking clear to hold the re-opposing Hang's Decision (116lb) by a length and three quarters. This time the barrier draw has been kinder - My Darling will jump from stall three.
"He's been coming from wide gates and this time the gate's helping him out, so hopefully he can have a proper run through," Moreira said.
The Chris So-trained Hang's Decision, potentially 9lb better off this time when factoring in Derek Leung's 2lb allowance, is among 13 others slated to oppose. Also in the field is the exciting but as yet unfulfilled Limitless (130lb), last year's Britannia Handicap winner at Royal Ascot.
Zac Purton was in the plate for the first time last start when the Lope De Vega four-year-old ran on from deep to claim second behind Beat The Clock in a course and distance Class 2. That was also the British import's first outing for trainer Caspar Fownes following a stable transfer from Peter Ho.
"He's definitely got more ability than what we've seen so far but he beats himself up a little bit so he needs to sort that out," Purton said, adding, "I won't be going forward on him!"
Limitless, successful in a 1400m Class 2 at the track in February under Silvestre de Sousa, has gained a reputation as a tricky ride, often pulling for his head and refusing to settle in races.
"I learnt last start that he can hang in in the straight - he's not an easy horse to ride and when the pace steadied at about the 1100 (metres), the 1000, he got his head up a little bit and wanted to overdo it," Purton said.
"As long as the race is run at an even speed, I'm sure that he's going to relax nicely. The draw (gate 10), once again, doesn't help us but hopefully with experience now, just being able to chill again, he'll remember that and he can go to sleep and give us his best."
Purton's Best Reward
With 102 wins on the board, Purton has four race meetings in which to attempt to match his previous Hong Kong best of 112, achieved in his championship-winning 2013/14 season. One horse that has already done more than his fair share for the Purton cause is Best Reward (123lb), and horse and rider will team in Saturday's Class 3 Serving The Community Handicap (2000m) in search of a fifth straight win together.
"You'd like to think he could make this step up to Class 3," Purton said of the So-trained galloper. "He stays, he just needs the race run to suit and if that's the case he'll be competitive again."
Best Reward, successful on dirt and turf, has risen from Class 5 and a rating of 40 at the start of his sequence back in early March, to a current rating of 69. The Holy Roman Emperor gelding, a half-brother to last year's G1 Coronation Cup (2400m) third Roseburg, put daylight on the field when sluicing to a 2200m score last time.
"He's definitely surprised me, I didn't think he'd get to where he's got to now," Purton said. "I knew he could win in (Class) five and the bottom of four but he's continued to improve, He's got more confident and he's strengthened up as the season's gone on. Obviously, confidence is a great thing at times and he's certainly racing with a lot of that."
Albert aims to Master the last
In the last (5.50pm), the Class 3 Riding High Together Handicap (1200m), Moreira will partner second starter Master Albert (126lb) , third to Perpetual Joyance when a 2.1 favourite on debut.
"I think it was a great run, he finished off the race as we expected," Moreria said of the So stable runner. "I rode him for luck as he had a very bad draw (10) that day and he was able to dash home. Actually, at one stage in the straight I thought I was still going to catch the leaders - I couldn't get there but I was very satisfied with his run."
Master Albert has gate 13 this time but Moreira is hopeful that the three-year-old's natural improvement from debut will help him cope with that.
"I think we're going to see a little bit more form him this time - he's still learning. He's a horse that I'm very excited about and I think he's a winning chance this time. I think he's improved since his last run."
Saturday's 10-race action kicks off at 1pm with the Class 4 Racing Goes On Handicap (1200m).
Joao Moreira guides My Darling to an impressive victory in a Class 2 1400m race last start.
Best Reward scores an easy win over 2200m last time.