Purton and Shea thrilled to get monkey off their backs
There was no sign of global warming at Happy Valley last night with icebreakers all round, including debut victories for the season's 'new lads' Zac Purton and Kevin Shea.
Both experiencing their first taste of the Valley's quirky circuit, Purton and Shea rode perfect races to take the final two events on Elfhelm and Tiger Prawn respectively and get that infamous monkey off their backs.
In what was the highlight race of the night, Shea brought the Tony Millard-trained Tiger Prawn home the winner of the Big Wave Bay Handicap (1,200m) in what was probably his first mount with any claims to winning.
'The form was there as he had run second to Sunny Power in his last run last season and he won the feature race on Sunday so I came here thinking I had a chance,' Shea said.
'It's a great thrill and I'm happy my first was for Tony as he's been giving me plenty of work in the mornings.'
Tiger Prawn just held the late finish of Sanziro to win one of the better Class Two sprints at the Valley in recent years, taking his record to five wins from nine starts and the promise of more to come.
'He's a lovely horse and I was told that was a tough race tonight so you have to be pleased with that,' Shea said.
'He probably just needs his attention to lift a bit to go to the next level. Both Tony and Felix Coetzee, who had been riding him last season, said that Tiger Prawn was just starting to miss the jump slightly. So I was ready for him, but he still wasn't the best away. If he can improve on that, it's going to help him progress.'
Young Australian rider Purton defied trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fie's instructions to win the seventh on Elfhelm, after the pace of the race was too strong for him early.
'Ricky asked me to have him in the box seat, but when they went a bit quick early inside me, I thought back to the videos of his other races I had watched,' Purton said. 'I remembered that Danny Nikolic had won on Elfhelm coming from behind one day so I thought the right thing to do was to let the speed go and get cover instead of pushing him and getting stuck wide.'
It was a great thrill for the 24-year-old as Elfhelm began the new season in the same kind of form as he left the old one, surging home in the middle of the course to win easily.
'I haven't been here long but I can see how tough it is to get going so I'm really pleased to have got one home early,' Purton said.
'Hopefully that will make a difference with the number of offers I get in the future.'
Also breaking through for the new season were Brett Prebble and Tony Cruz with Perseverance in the sixth and reigning champion trainer Caspar Fownes, who kept his Happy Valley record up in taking the second with Hold Hands (Jacky Tong Chi-kit).
'Jacky gave that a cracking good ride, I must say,' said Fownes, who won races at the first 13 Valley meetings last season and dominated at the city track overall for the term.
'I think Hold Hands will handle himself well in Class Three based on that, though he is still a slightly built horse. I thought he might have put on some pounds in the summer but it hasn't happened. He's basically the same horse physically as he was last season, but mentally he is more focused.'
Another new four-year-old to return well was maiden Keen Soul (Coetzee) for Me Tsui Yu-sak, and he strolled home in the opener.
'He was a nervous young horse last season but with added maturity he seems much better now,' said Tsui. 'He can improve further and I think in time he'll run 1,400m.'