Synonymous with some of Hong Kong's greatest horses, Zac Purton is excited by prospect of challenging Golden Sixty aboard California Spangle in a generational clash in the Group 1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (April 24).
Hong Kong's highest-rated horse at 131, Golden Sixty bids for a 21st career victory, sixth Group 1 crown and Hong Kong's all-time prize money record – he is poised to overtake Beauty Generation's HKD$106,233,750 having already amassed HKD$102,000,600 – against precocious contender California Spangle and other proven performers including Waikuku.
Famously paired with Beauty Generation, Aerovelocity, Exultant and Ambitious Dragon during a wondrous Hong Kong career, Purton has enduring respect for Francis Lui's Golden Sixty, but he is genuinely curious over how California Spangle, rated 101 on the basis of six wins and three seconds from nine starts, will fare against the current benchmark.
“We're at the stage now we're going to measure up against the champ and see where we're at,” Purton said of Tony Cruz's front-runner. “Obviously, the ratings tell us we're a long way out of it and he (Golden Sixty) was very good last start and he's drawn a good gate (barrier two).
“Now it's time to go head-to-head with the big boy.
“It's an exciting part of it. I don't know where we stand against Golden Sixty – he could just be better than us and that might be the case on the weekend, but we're not going to know until we race against him and I feel that my bloke has still got room to improve.”
Effective in his short career from 1000m to 1800m, California Spangle advances to Group 1 company following his heroic second to Romantic Warrior in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) last month.
“He's had to go up 2000m and come back to the mile, so it's probably not the perfect preparation going into a race against Golden Sixty, but that's where we are at this stage of his career, and we look forward to it,” Purton said.
Vincent Ho is wary of California Spangle but is upbeat about Golden Sixty's chances of landing successive FWD Champions Mile victories to complement a pair of Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile triumphs over the same course and distance.
“He's 100 percent. He's right on track and fitter than last time. The last ‘prep' was a little bit rushed. He wasn't too fit at the trials and we just managed to get him there and he still performed very well,” Ho said of the six-year-old's crushing success in the Group 2 Chairman's Trophy (1600m) at Sha Tin on April 3.
Karis Teetan believes Romantic Warrior has progressed significantly following an epic BMW Hong Kong Derby triumph ahead of his encounter with Russian Emperor in the HKD$25 million Group 1 QEII Cup (2000m).
“He's an exciting horse going forward. Winning the Derby was really a fantastic time for all of us and now we move forward and we look forward to the big day,” Teetan said. “I believe the horse has improved mentally and physically. He's pulled up well since the Derby. He's in really good shape.
“He's showing us every sign that he could do it (win), but it requires a lot from him. We've been running against four-year-old horses, now we take on older horses like Russian Emperor, who has been showing very good form lately and so it will be a hard battle.”
Caspar Fownes will seek his third victory in the HKD$20 million Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m) when he saddles Sky Field and Kurpany.
Successful with Lucky Nine in 2013 and 2014, Fownes predicts a tight battle in a field containing proven Group 1 performers such as Wellington, Hot King Prawn, Stronger and Sky Field and emerging talents such as Master Eight and Sight Success.
“The sprinters in Hong Kong have always been a close bunch of horses, even the younger ones. Hong Kong has always produced good sprinters and they can always get close. I don't think anyone's going to come out and win by three or four lengths, I think it's going to be a well fought race and a close finish – as it usually is,” Fownes said.
“Sky Field's still improving. As he gets older, he's going to get better. He's finally understanding what we want of him. He's going to be back in the race and he'll be giving us a big closing sectional. He's in good nick.
“He's there with a big chance on Sunday. I think he's in very good condition and he tends to give us a big performance when he comes in on the fresh side. The horse is ready to rock and roll – he's ready to go to the races.”
Purton takes over on four-time course and distance winner Sight Success and, from barrier two, believes he has inherited a winning chance.
“He's a really good ride to pick up, especially out of the gate that he's going to come out of, he's flying. He's improved a lot recently, he's in career-best form and he doesn't have to find much to win that race,” the Australian said.