Zac Purton started as he meant to go on at Sha Tin Racecourse today, Sunday, 25 March, displaying aggression, poise and rhythmic strength to win the Class 5 opener. He followed that with a barnstorming late-card four-timer to earn five on the day, and with it, impetus in his long, understated challenge for this season’s champion jockey title.
The haul matched the Australian’s five-win return at the track on 13 May last year.
“It’s not a bad day,” Purton said, with an almost-grin and feigned indifference, after his fifth victory on the aptly-named Simply Brilliant (122lb).
That score came in the Class 2 Sapphire Handicap (1600m) and was achieved at the expense of his prime rival, champion jockey Joao Moreira. Purton’s mount responded to every urging in the closing exchange, the son of Frankel edging out the Moreira-ridden Easy Go Easy Win (125lb) by a neck.
“He’s been a difficult horse, hanging in his races and doing things wrong, and he was still quite keen for the first five or six hundred metres today,” Purton said of Simply Brilliant. “Once he relaxed he got into a nice rhythm and I really like the way he fought, he just kept sticking his head out to the line.
“He’s bred to get a bit further but he doesn’t have the brain for it at the moment. He’s a lightly-framed horse and I think maybe next season he could furnish and step up a little bit more.”
The British import, sixth in the Britannia Handicap (1600m) at Royal Ascot last term, gave trainer Frankie Lor a second win for the afternoon. The handler provided Moreira with a win, too, aboard Right Call in race three; Lor, like most, is a big fan of both riders.
“Some owners like to have great jockeys riding their horses, so I try to get Zac and Joao whenever I can, I like using them both but it’s not easy to get them,” he said.
With 30 race meetings remaining in Hong Kong’s 88-card campaign, Purton knows that there is a long road still ahead in his tussle with premiership leader and thrice-reigning champion Moreira, the man who usurped him as champion in 2015.
With the Brazilian ace kicking home two winners today, Purton drew to within six of the premiership leader. But Lor pointed out one factor that makes Purton’s title attempt a tough challenge.
“Zac cannot ride light,” he said. Moreira, though, can,” he said.
Purton kicked off today’s action aboard the Manfred Man-trained Ever Strong, winning at odds of 11/1. That came on the dirt track and the rider went on to take all three races on the inner circuit; the Michael Freedman-trained Elite Boy, the 2.3 favourite, charged six lengths clear to win the 1200m Class 4; and Purton measured to perfection Perpetual Treasure’s (3.6) front-running neck win for trainer Benno Yung in the Class 3 over the same trip.
Purton made it four in tandem with the impressive Baltic Whisper. Danny Shum’s charge blazed the 1000m straight in 56.22s to win at odds of 4.3.
Moreira completed his double atop the Peter Ho-trained Audacity, the 3.2 favourite in the Class 4 Emerald Handicap (2000m). The champ was foiled in the last when the inexperienced Raging Storm, sent off the 1.5 favourite, did plenty wrong and finished only seventh behind Regency Bo Bo. Apprentice Matthew Poon steered the Tony Cruz-trained 9.9 chance to victory.
Moore and Berry take the 18 Districts Cup
Agree (126lb) won the afternoon’s trophy race, the Class 3 18 Districts Cup (1600m) at odds of 9.1.
Tommy Berry made the running on the John Moore-trained galloper and revealed afterwards that the five-year-old’s scaredy-cat nature probably helped him out in the run to the wire.
“He’s scared of other horses, scared of pretty much everything, so when he hears the other horses coming behind him, he really fights on,” the rider said.
The Zebedee gelding did just that when Berry kicked on at the top of the home stretch, boxing to a length and three-quarter score from Green Energy (133lb), the mount of Nash Rawiller.
“We found that if he’s in front or outside of horses he seems to race to his best. He’s the sort of horse that if you get your own way in races like that he’s very hard to run down,” Berry said.
Agree now has three wins this term, all under Berry and all achieved since the turn of the year. The stable’s retained rider took his season’s tally to 13, seven of those achieved aboard Moore-trained horses.
“We had no real expectations with this horse and he’s gone and won three, so from that point of view it’s another bonus,” Moore said. “And he can win again if he gets the races panning out like that. He doesn’t like being between horses too much, but today he got in front and he kicked like a horse that isn’t done with winning yet.
“He was just well-placed and everything mapped out well, speed-wise. He got a soft enough lead and it turned out well, with the programme and the way the race mapped out, to be able to do what he did.”
Millard’s unearthed a Treasure
Refined Treasure is proving to be something of a bargain. In sluicing to a three-and a half-length victory in the Class 4 Amethyst Handicap (1000m) this afternoon under Chad Schofield, the Tony Millard-trained gelding confirmed his status as an exciting young prospect.
“I think he can be something really special if we just play it properly. He ran a very fast time here today, although the track has been quite quick lately,” Millard said after the three-year-old had clocked 56.51s for the straight 1000m, under a 133lb impost.
The Australian-bred cost only AUS$60,000 out of the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in 2016 and has already won prize money of HK$1,003,200.
“I bought this horse for the owners and we didn’t expect him to be this good,” Millard said. “We’ve been very careful with him and we’ve been placing him nicely. He’s winning, so we’ll keep to 1000 metres for now.”
Refined Treasure is by Lope De Vega out of the Volksraad mare Spyglass Hill, and that cross that attracted Millard.
“He’s got a lot of things going for him, he’s got a beautiful pedigree, he’s the classic cross – the same as Able Friend (by Shamardal), being out of a Volksraad mare, and that’s one of the reasons I bought him,” he said.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 28 March.
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