Whyte's late win restores buffer ahead of ban
Quickfire Purton strikes early but can't add to opening double on typically topsy-turvy night
Zac Purton started like he would keep his slim jockeys' championship hopes alive with the opening two wins on the card, but leader Douglas Whyte got one back in the last - and punters suffered two blowout results in between - on a typically topsy-turvy night on the "C + 3" course at Happy Valley.
Turnover still topped a billion dollars for the eight races, but a soft track amplified the tricky nature of racing with the rail out: previously out-of-form runners seemed to be assisted by jockeys keen to get into prominent positions and the give in the surface.
After Whyte's six winners last Sunday, Purton answered with his early double to close the gap temporarily to seven; both wins were for Caspar Fownes on Gracytom and Snitzel Kid, who benefitted from a strong front-running ride from the Australian.
"That was our plan - to take the race by the scruff of the neck," Purton said.
Fownes said Snitzel Kid was a horse with all sorts of ailments, from "breathing problems, to bleeding and sore joints", and thus was helped by the give in the surface.
Whyte's winner to close proceedings gave him an eight-win buffer with another two-meeting suspension approaching - and restored some sanity after two long shots had arrived in the previous events. Whyte was aboard John Size-trained sprinter Victorius, who made it back-to-back wins after his breakthrough success on the dirt last start.
Victorius was slow away from gate eight, but Size said that could have helped the inexperienced four-year-old stay out of the hectic early stages.
"I don't think he missed the start necessarily, but he didn't get running early," he said.
"I didn't mind that. I didn't want Douglas driving forward, because I thought some others would, and I didn't want to be part of that. He had to push him a bit around the turn. But he got into the ideal spot."
The two unexpected results were northern hemisphere imports breaking their local maidens, both having never filled a place in any of their Hong Kong starts. First, Geronimo Meadow gave Andreas Suborics his third cup win in recent weeks when he snuck along the rails late in a blanket finish, paying $495 for a $10 investment.
Geronimo Meadow's trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai said the combination of "gate one, a wet track and a handicap that had dropped a long way" contributed to the victory. "And he only won by a whisker. He is a typical English horse that had taken a while to acclimatise."
All-the-way winner Ninth Galaxy (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) then lobbed in at 54-1 in the next race, trainer David Hall saying being drawn gate 12 made it "hard to be confident with the rail out".
"At least he does have speed, and tactically he can take advantage of that like he did tonight.
"He struggled in those first eight starts to get used to the hard tracks, he doesn't have much of an action. But he had slowly started showing some improvement lately."
Gold Edition (Tim Clark) won his second race this year as he came back to the city track, but expect trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak to keep the four-year-old guessing.
"I think this horse gets bored, so I will keep moving him around - back to the straight at Sha Tin, and maybe even the all-weather track if we can find a race," he said.
The biggest move of the night came for Tony Millard's Medic Champion - smashed from close to 30-1 into 8.35 late - Dicky Lui Cheuk-yin getting the job done from gate 12, but copping time for his trouble. Lui didn't leave sufficient room when crossing runner-up Casa Junior (Eddie Lai Wai-ming) rounding the turn out of the straight and was handed his second careless riding charge of the term. "I was told I was to lead, but as I came across, he got on the wrong leg for a stride and I lost him for a second, he is a big horse," Lui said. "I will keep trying to improve. Having just 112 pounds on his back made him very hard to catch."