Another big day from Zac Purton could go close to sealing a second jockeys’ championship and Sacred Ibis seems set to fly again for the Australian rider in the last race of the day on Saturday at Sha Tin.
Purton’s four-timer on Wednesday stretched his lead to five with eight meetings remaining, while three-time defending champion and nearest rival Joao Moreira returned from suspension with no wins from eight rides.
Sacred Ibis chases back-to-back wins in the Class Three Pok Fu Lam Country Park Handicap (1,400m) on a day where the improving four-year-old is just one of a host of chances for the top jockey in town.
Trainer Paul O’Sullivan’s patience with Sacred Ibis has paid off with a season that has garnered three wins from seven starts and sticking to 1,400m should prove the right choice here.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Sacred Ibis this term and after wins at his first two starts, the back-marker went through a frustrating run of outs.
Sacred Ibis hasn’t run a bad race but his get-back style meant he was dictated to by race tempo.
That style also suggested a mile might be more suitable than 1,400m, but it was a switch back to the shorter trip last start and the engagement of Purton that brought about a win.
Purton also rode Sacred Ibis in a key barrier trial before that, in which he pushed the gelding between horses in the run to the line, providing experience that proved crucial last start.
Sacred Ibis again came from behind but this time was able to shoulder through gaps, the type of racecraft and toughness the son of O’Reilly will need to show more of as he climbs higher through the grades.
In terms of quality, Purton seems to have an edge over Moreira on Saturday but one race where it looks hard to split the pair is the Class Two Lung Mun Road Handicap (1,600m).
Purton reunites with Simply Brilliant after winning on the horse in February and March, but he will have to contend with Moreira’s mount Hezthewonforus.
Simply Brilliant’s stablemate Morethanlucky (Karis Teetan) could also be a threat in a highly competitive Class Two.
Simply Brilliant comes off a tough fourth, beaten three lengths on April 29, a race where nothing went right.
After being stuck three-wide near the speed, Simply Brilliant was pushed even wider approaching the turn and exposed early in the straight.
The winner of the race, Rise High, has since franked the form with another win and placegetters Circuit Hassler and Doctor Geoff have also raced well since.
A positive trial with Purton aboard also adds some confidence to Simply Brilliant’s case.
The Class Three Lei Yue Mun Park Handicap (1,000m) is a fascinating clash between the two jockeys on horses coming back in distance to the tricky and somewhat draw-dependent straight track.
Purton’s ride Super Wise was dealt a blow with barrier three but barrier 11 means Eighty Eighty should get a much better run for Moreira, closer to the outside rail.
The races on the circle could be difficult to judge as well, with the rail out in the C + 3 position and more inclement weather predicted before race day.
Purton also retains the ride on a horse that successfully came back to 1,000m and overcame an inside draw last start when Goko contests the Class Four Chai Wan Road Handicap (1,000m).
Goko had the early pace to take a prominent position three weeks ago and barrier eight in a field of 12 should make finding a good spot easier.