Ascot victory makes it a big day for Little Bridge
Top sprinter Little Bridge threw out his credentials to be Horse Of the Year last night with a comprehensive victory at Royal Ascot as he became Hong Kong's only international winner on foreign soil in the King's Stand Stakes and only the second in history at the fixture.
Hong Kong had previously claimed the Golden Jubilee Stakes with Cape Of Good Hope when the royal meeting was run at York, but Zac Purton had Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Little Bridge in the firing line throughout before he went clear to be the first King's Stand Stakes winner at Ascot.
With three minor Group wins, Little Bridge had been a fringe player for the Horse Of The Year honours before last night but his first Group One, at Ascot to boot, will make a strong push for Little Bridge to be Hong Kong's premier performer for the season.
It was a career highlight for Purton, who has enjoyed his best season yet locally and rode a perfect race on Little Bridge to put him into contention from the start.
'The focus among the visitors was on Ortensia from Australia, but Little Bridge was able to fly under the radar to some extent,' Purton said later. 'I jumped a length in front then travelled all the way and Little Bridge had his ears pricked at the 200m and I was happy that something came up and headed him and reminded him he was in a race.
'Danny told me when I arrived that he had the horse spot on and he's been a special horse to me. I was on him when he won his first race and most of his races since then - I didn't ride him for a couple of starts this season when I had to commit to Sacred Kingdom, but I always wanted to get back on him. You know, it's so hard in Hong Kong to get on these sorts of horses, so I am thrilled even to just be on him in this sort of race, but to win on him here is just magic.'
Purton will have had the flight back overnight to let the win sink in, with rides at Happy Valley tonight including a Class Five for Shum on Mega Posh in the opener.
It was a poignant moment for Shum as his first winner on foreign soil came at Ascot, where he had been the travelling groom for Ivan Allan with Indigenous for the King George in 1999 and with Firebolt for the King's Stand in 2003, his last trip away before Shum gained a trainer's licence in his own right.
Purton said he understood Little Bridge would now return to Hong Kong for a summer break before targeting the Sprinters Stakes in Japan next October and the Hong Kong Sprint at the year end.
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges made the trip to cheer home Little Bridge and admitted to his delight 'that the betting window didn't have enough money to pay me out'.
'But, seriously, it is great for Hong Kong - we know we have high quality of horses, especially in the sprinting ranks, but you do need to perform at these kinds of meetings on foreign soil to ensure the proper recognition,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'And I'm over the moon for Hong Kong with the way he won - as far out as the 400m, it was clear that Little Bridge was going to be hard to beat.'
The other Hong Kong runner, Joy And Fun never got into the race and finished 16th.
Earlier, champion colt Frankel opened the meeting in emphatic style, powering to an 11-length victory in the Queen Anne Stakes. Frankel, a 1-10 favourite ridden by Tom Queally, finished ahead of Excelebration (5-1).