It might seem like Zac Purton has sparked Best Reward’s stunning mid-season turnaround but the jockey says it has been just a matter of timing as the emerging stayer chases five straight wins at Sha Tin on Saturday.
Best Reward had plummeted to Class Five when Purton climbed aboard at a low-key Sha Tin dirt meeting in early March.
The Australian jockey implemented rather rudimentary, but ultimately effective tactics, simply circling the field four and five wide for an impressive last-to-first victory.
Another win on the dirt was followed by two on the turf at Sha Tin, the last of those a soft three-and-a-half length romp over 2,200m that took the gelding’s rating to 69 – one less point than what he has when he arrived from England in late 2015.
Purton has been on board for each of the four wins and now Chris So Wai-yin’s late-blooming five-year-old is likely to start favourite in the Class Three Serving The Community Handicap (2,000m).
“He is just an out-and-out stayer that took a long time to settle in,” Purton said. “He took a long time to mature, he is only a small horse and he needed to strengthen up. So it was just a mater of timing – by the time I got on him he was just starting to pick up.
“That first win, I knew he had no turn of foot, so the plan was to keep rolling on him. I just didn’t want to stop his momentum so I kept letting him roll, it worked, and he obviously gained a little bit of confidence out of it and is racing a lot better now.”
Best Reward’s stamina meant Purton was able to make a mid-race move last start, sliding around the field to sit outside the leader before booting away upon turning.
“You know you can do that on him if the opportunity presents itself because he has such a great set of lungs,” Purton said.
Still, as impressive as that last start looked, Best Reward jumped 10 ratings points and Purton issued some caution to punters.
“He was stepping up to 2,200m and not many horses can run that distance here in Hong Kong, so he had that advantage,” he said. “They rolled along early in the race and I couldn’t keep up with them, but when they held up I was able to sneak ground without doing much work. I basically ended up outside the leader and got there cheaply. He still had to go and do it, but it looked impressive because everything fell into place.”
A fifth win for Best Reward would continue what has already been a career-best season for So, who has 54 winners so far and sits fourth in the trainers’ championship.
Purton says So has shown a rare versatility that mirrors that of his former mentor Caspar Fownes.
“Best Reward shows that Chris can train sprinters as well as stayers, and he shows the right amount of patience with his horses,” Purton said.
So sends a strong team to the races on Saturday that also includes likely race favourite Master Albert (Joao Moreira) in the Class Three Riding High Together Handicap (1,200m).
Master Albert was an eye-catching third at his local debut a month ago when taken back from a tricky draw, and although drawn wide again, Moreira expects natural improvement.
“Of course he should be better for that first run and the experience, and it will be easier on the A + 3 course, last time it was on the C course,” he said.
Jockey Brett Prebble is managing his expectations around So’s three-year-old debutant Leisured Feet, who came up with gate one in the Class Four Racing Goes On Handicap (1,200m).
Leisured Feet has trialled five times, the last hit-out a second to subsequent winner Travel Emperor.
“He was beaten five-and-a-half lengths, but still, it was a good trial,” Prebble said. “He has enough speed to maintain a spot in the first five or six in the run and I expect him to finish in the first five or six as well. My only concern with him is whether or not he is quite strong enough at this stage.”