Extending a brilliant run of form with a Sha Tin quartet on Saturday, Zac Purton crowned an ideal preparation for the Hong Kong Derby (2000m) next Sunday when the Australian partners leading contender Beauty Eternal.
Returning to Hong Kong after a Group 1 double at Randwick in Sydney, on March 4, Purton swiftly reprised his best form with wins aboard John Size stablemates Golden Express and Red Lion, Circuit Stellar for Tony Cruz and Frankie Lor’s Run Run Cool.
“It’s been a good day. It’s nice. I thought I had some handy rides today. It’s been a little bit frustrating but I’ve still had a few winners, so it’s okay,” Purton said after sealing the four-timer on Golden Express in the Class 3 Tak Ku Ling Handicap (1200m).
“He (Golden Express) has shown what he is made of today. He just needed a bit of tempo in his races at 1200m to allow him to use the beautiful action that he’s got. He’s always travelled like the winner and I just had to navigate the right path and he did what he had to do – he’s a nice horse.”
Purton’s haul propelled the five-time Hong Kong champion jockey to 105 wins for the season – 53 wins clear of nearest pursuer Vincent Ho. Purton has ridden four or more winners on six occasions in the 2022/23 season – topped by a seven-timer on 9 October.
Circuit Stellar provided the second leg of Purton’s latest quartet with a dashing win in the Class 2 Lung Kong Handicap (1400m), leaving Tony Cruz to chase similar races with the tough gelding.
Atullibigeal’s effort to finish fifth, four lengths behind Circuit Stellar, was sufficient for David Hall to formalise plans to tackle the Hong Kong Derby next weekend.
“Definitely onto to the Derby. I was pretty happy. I sort of pictured the race beforehand with a slow tempo and then a dash home, and it was always going to be hard for him to get amongst the first three,” Hall said.
“He’s run fifth and if you have a look at the sectionals, if you can run a reel off a 21.78s (final 400m) in the Derby, you’re going to be competitive.
“He’s got the talent and the mindset has always been a bit tricky with him – he can get on his toes – but he relaxed today and I think if he comes back next week in that sort of form, I’m really happy for him to be in the race and I’m looking forward to it.”
Frankie Lor’s aspirations of successive Hong Kong trainers’ championships remain intact after treble lifted him to 39 wins to close to within four of Size, who leads with 43 wins after a double of his own.
Lor fell seven behind Size after a relatively barren February, but his stable is now firing again.
“Last month I had only three winners – sometimes it’s like this,” Lor said after the wins of Run Run Cool, Happy Golf and Run Run Buddy. “I try hard to win races for my owners and at this moment, I’m not thinking about the championship, it’s still too early, but I will try my best (to win it again).”
Winning Steps broke through at his seventh Hong Kong start with a tenacious performance to win the Class 4 Lok Sin Tong Cup Handicap (1800m) for Alexis Badel and Pierre Ng, who is about to embark on an ambitious international campaign with Glorious Dragon and Duke Wai.
“He (Winning Steps) was very unlucky last start, he drew one and never had his chance to get a clear run. This time I just told Alexis to get a handy position and whenever they go slow, to get him out and get going,” said Ng, who confirmed Glorious Dragon will join stablemate Duke Wai at the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan on 25 March.
“Glorious Dragon will run in the Group One 1800m (Group 1 Dubai Turf). It was confirmed yesterday and we are trying to organise everything as soon as possible because they are leaving on Friday. It has all happened like that.
“There will be some very good horses in the race but hopefully he runs well. He’s got the experience and hopefully he’s got the freshness to run well in his first run on the track.”
Duke Wai will run in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m).
Angus Chung exploited Douglas Whyte-trained Cheval Valiant’s dash with maximum impact when the Charm Spirit gelding surged to a blistering win in the Class 4 Sa Po Handicap (1000m), clocking 55.80s despite shouldering 125lb.
Hugh Bowman dominated the opening stages of the meeting with a race-to-race double, starting with victory aboard Speedstar for David Hall in the Class 5 Hau Wong Handicap (1400m).
“He did a good job with the weight. He’s a game horse and he’s come a long way and he’s now a good little Hong Kong horse,” Hall said after slotting the stable’s 25th victory of the campaign.
Bowman capitalised on Happy Golf’s favourable draw by hugging the fence from barrier two before winning the Class 4 Junction Handicap (1200m) for Lor, who overtook Ricky Yiu (37 wins) in the trainers’ championship when Run Run Cool burst to victory in the Class 3 Nam Kok Handicap (1000m).
David Hayes’ patience was rewarded when Regent Glory prevailed in the first section of the Class 4 Nga Tsin Wai Handicap (1400m) for Karis Teetan.
“The horse got an injury when he arrived in Hong Kong on the firm tracks. He had to have a screw put in his fetlock. He’s confident now, he’s more relaxed and I think there are more wins to come from this horse,” said Hayes, who took his seasonal haul to 24 wins.