Purton sticks by Sacred choice after crossing Bridge
For jockey Zac Purton, safely ensconced in Hong Kong's top four riders during the past four years, the 2011 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint has been a tale of two horses.
In September, the Australian found himself in the enviably unenviable position of having two of the best local chances - and then having to choose well out from the race.
The regular partner of Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained Little Bridge for most of his career, Purton also found himself in demand for the ride on Ricky Yiu Poon-fai's ageing world champion, Sacred Kingdom.
'I had hoped they would take slightly different paths early and I would be able to make the choice later than I did, but Danny wanted a consistent riding engagement and Ricky wanted a commitment too,' Purton said. 'It's something all jockeys go through and it can turn out one way or another. I chose Sacred Kingdom.'
With Yiu deciding to run the eight-year-old Sacred Kingdom only once, in October, in the lead-up to the Hong Kong Sprint that he has already won twice, Little Bridge's stocks soared as he won the Jockey Club Sprint for Gerald Mosse to entrench himself among the main chances tomorrow.
Then he drew a low gate, while Purton's mount came up with the outside of the field of 14, but the Australian rider has no regrets.
'I still believe I am on the best horse in the race. The other horses have gained profile because they have been racing in the lead-ups - Sacred Kingdom has been the one nobody has been thinking about because he hasn't,' Purton said. 'But he was unlucky not to beat Entrapment first-up, when he was giving him a lot of weight under handicaps, and meets him on level terms this time.'
Yiu says he thinks Sacred Kingdom still has what it takes to beat the best - just as long as he is kept happy.
'As an old horse, he is doing his best when he is fresh and happy. That's why we didn't run him,' Yiu said. 'In my heart, I know he still has it and we just have to manage how many demands we make.'
And Purton, whose career in Hong Kong has coincided with the era of Sacred Kingdom's highlight reel, agrees.
'He hasn't lost his ability. It has just become more difficult to get things right for him. Ricky has decided the best way to get him at his best is keep him fresh and, from my perspective, he has to be managed in his races, too,' Purton said.
'When Brett Prebble was riding him last season, Sacred Kingdom started hitting the lead and then emptying out and he's the same in his work. He's still got a fabulous engine and goes very fast when he lets down but, if you let him get past when he works with another horse, he just stops dead.
'If you keep holding him back and there's a horse for him to chase, he keeps giving you his best and he has been really smoking in his work.
'The wide gate means he's going to have a lot of horses in front of him, but if that means he's going to have horses to chase right to the shadows of the post, then that's what he wants. I wish Danny and Little Bridge's owners all the best on Sunday. It's just one of those things, but I'm not sorry to be on Sacred Kingdom.'