Zac Purton is optimistic California Spangle can extend an already meteoric rise by claiming the Group 3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (September 25), when the richly talented gelding's performance will help Tony Cruz plot a path towards a LONGINES Hong Kong International Races tilt on December 11.
Purton views California Spangle – winner of six races and four times runner-up from 10 starts – as the emerging local horse most likely to help fulfil the Australian's ambitions of further Group 1 success.
“He's potentially my A Grade horse going into this season,” Purton said. “He was right there last season against Golden Sixty and if he just finds a little more, there's every chance he can take the champ head on again.
“I'm looking forward to riding him again and I hope we see a more furnished horse this season.”
Pointing to the four-year-old's versatility with wins spread from 1000m to 1800m, and also his status as Griffin track record-holder at both 1000m and 1200m at Sha Tin, Purton believes BMW Hong Kong Derby runner-up California Spangle can succeed at both ends of the distance spectrum.
“I'm still a little bit unsure about what his best distance is, actually. He's such a talented horse he can be competitive in any distance we have here – certainly in the sprint, the mile, he just got beaten in the Derby over 2000m and I believe he could run 2400m here as well,” Purton said.
“Wherever Tony wants to direct him, he's going to be competitive. I think it's his racing manners more than anything that will come into play. If he does want go too hard and doesn't want to relax, well you've probably got to bring him back in distance a little bit.
“He's my favourite horse at the moment, so I'm looking forward to getting back on him. There's a lot to like about him. His trials have been quite good up there in Conghua.”
To face only five rivals on Sunday, California Spangle (127lb) jumps from barrier five and could endure pressure from Healthy Happy (123lb), who starts from gate two under Silvestre de Sousa in Hong Kong's first Group contest of the 2022/23 season.
“The only problem I see in this race is maybe his (California Spangle's) racing manners. He does want to get on with it a little bit, he's a bit keen and if another horse races him, he might do a bit do much in the mid-stages and, at the start of the season, especially over 1400m, that leaves him a little vulnerable,” Purton cautioned.
“But he's clearly the best horse in the race, there's no doubt about that. I just hope he can give himself every chance.”
With three wins and six minor placings so far this campaign, De Sousa has a full book of 10 rides on Sunday, including King Of The Court for Douglas Whyte in the second section of Class 4 Kwong Fuk Handicap (1200m).
Winner of a 1200m trial on Sha Tin's dirt on September 13 in 1m 10.58s, King Of The Court was narrowly beaten on debut when first-up last season for Chris So and Alexis Badel.
“He's (King Of The Court) done a nice barrier trial and I'm very pleased with the way that he did it. I'm confident that he's going to run a good race,” De Sousa said. “He felt good in the barrier trial, we've got a good gate and hopefully we can get a nice run.”
Bidding for his first victory of the term, 11-time champion trainer John Size combines with Purton and promising Tuchel – winner of two of six starts in 2021/22 – in the Class 3 Fuk Loi Handicap (1400m).
“He (Tuchel) seems fine, he's in pretty good order. He's had a couple of trials after a break and he looks like he's in good shape,” Size said. “He's not a good trial horse, he hasn't got much pace or he doesn't trial very well but I think that he's done well. He looks well and he's due to go to the races, so he might as well start.
“He raced reasonably well (last season) and then he was on rain-affected tracks which probably didn't suit him. Coming back to a fast track, he'll probably run better.
“He showed potential from the first day he went to the races, so it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next few months.”