Fresh off a five-win haul at Sha Tin on Saturday, Zac Purton heads across to the city track with a strong book of rides starting with Grace Heart in the opening event.
While Joao Moreira (146 winners) is running his out race out in front, the Australian has 86 victories heading into Wednesday night’s meeting, more than twice that of third-placed Neil Callan (39), and is on target to ride 100 winners or more in a season for the second time.
A freshen-up and barrier one could be the keys to the Caspar Fownes-trained Grace Heart snapping a long winless sequence in the Class Four Deauville August Yearling Sales Handicap (1,000m).
Grace Heart is only a lightly framed horse, usually heading to the races at around 1,000-pounds, and hasn’t won since a Class Three triumph more than 600 days ago.
The chestnut has run 22 times since and when Grace Heart tipped the scales at 962 pounds at the pre-race weigh-in last start, his lowest bodyweight ever, and finished eighth, Fownes elected to give the five-year-old a break between runs.
Grace Heart returns to the races 84 days later with his bodyweight up 25 pounds to 987 pounds and drawn barrier one in a weak race.
“Sometimes horses go around and around and get to the stage where they are tired, and if you can give them a break like he has had, often they come back mentally and physically better,” Purton said, pointing to Grace Heart’s excellent fresh record as a reason for optimism.
Grace Heart’s three wins have all been off breaks, starting with his debut, then an all-the-way win off a three-month break later that season and the first-up victory in September 2015.
Purton is the only jockey to have won on Mythical Emperor since the sprinter arrived from Australia and the in-form rider will need to be at his best to help Chris So Wai-yin’s gelding win again in the Arc de Triomphe Champions Handicap.
Mythical Emperor comes to the Valley for the first time, without so much as a trial at the tricky track, but Purton said his horse’s on-pace style is an advantage.
“With horses heading to Happy Valley for the first time, horses that race on the speed seem to handle it better than the horses that get back in the field,” he said.
“The ones that get back, they are getting pushed and bumped, and heading into those tight corners, there’s a lot to think about for them, where he will jump well, you would think he will be up on the pace and out of trouble. Also going back to Happy Valley, even when it is in the same grade, it doesn’t seem as difficult.”
Purton probably would have been on race favourite Best Step if not for that three-year-old being allotted bottom weight.
“The handicapper has been killing me lately, they seem to be heading up to a rating of 61 or 62 so I can’t stay on them and that can be frustrating,” he said. “He is an obvious danger, he continues to get better from start to start, but his biggest problem has been jumping, if he misses the start, even half a length, he could find it difficult.”
Purton joked that Happy Contender will be relieved to not see Andoyas lining up against him when the Richard Gibson-trained stayer comes back to 1,800m in the Class Three Longchamp Racecourse Handicap.
The German-bred gelding is winless in 23 starts but has four narrow defeats on his record, including two nose defeats this season.
Andoyas, and Purton, were responsible for two of those narrow decisions, a nose defeat in January as well as beating him a neck last start over 2,200m.
“He has come to win the race, but for whatever reason hasn’t gone on with it,” Purton said.