Zac Purton had all the answers at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, taking half the programme while arch-rival Joao Moreira was perhaps an even bigger story when he posted his third successive winless meeting at the city track.
Moreira now sits on a losing run at the Valley of 24 rides after failing to land a blow since September 6, and placings on Star Of Joy and Show Mission were his best results while Purton slammed home Kwaichung Brothers, Little Island, Starlight and Best Step to dominate the night’s racing and move into a clear second on the table.
“If you look at my stats, before tonight I’d had 13 seconds from my 50 rides – a lot more seconds than anyone else – and my horses have been running well but some of them getting run down late and not quite winning,” Purton said.
“It was nice to be on the flip side of that tonight with Little Island and Best Step the ones having their heads in front in the photos and the bounce of the ball going my way.”
Best Step crowned Purton’s night with a hard-fought win in the final race at his first start for the new campaign and trainer Caspar Fownes said he had in mind to try to win the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge series over the next five months with the horse.
“He’s such a perfect horse for Happy Valley. He’s got speed and can put himself right in the race and he’s such a gentleman, a simple ride. Then he was tough tonight when the second horse came at him,” Fownes said.
“He’s going to have to lift on that effort to be any chance in the Million Challenge but hopefully he will come on for it.”
Purton’s win on Starlight was the most impressive of the night, with the five-year-old parking in fifth, tracking the speed and was never really asked for his best in coming away for another soft win.
“The important thing for him was the draw,” trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong said.
“All the time, he draws wide, we have to take him back or he will over-race and then he has to give too much start. Last run and this time, he drew better and we could have him relaxed and closer to the speed. He took some time to get his career going but it was just about maturity and we are seeing his best now that he is stronger.”
It was a night of breakthroughs for trainer Almond Lee and for jockey Neil Callan, who got off the mark for the season with Junzi for Chris So Wai-yin.
“I was never that worried – I knew the winners would come,” said Callan. “This horse won off 52 for me at the start of last season after he’d trialled well and when he trialled well again, he looked in four pounds light at the handicap off 48 tonight if he turned up.
“It’s been a good job by Chris because he isn’t an easy horse to train – he’s very hard to keep condition on and he falls away after a race or two. Maybe he’ll get a bit stronger with time but for now he has to have his races spaced.”
Lee was the last trainer to get himself on the scoreboard for the season, pulling the surprise of the night with Le Pegase (Keith Yeung Ming-lun), who broke his maiden status at his 21st Hong Kong start and off a rating of 18.
“I wasn’t happy to be the last but what can you do?” said Lee. “I had seconds, thirds but just no winner. This horse is better than his rating and although he won at 1,650m he has also run well at an unsuitable distance like 1,200m just because he is better than his mark. But he isn’t a horse who likes to be bumped in a race, everything has to be perfect.
“Luckily Keith knows him well and he made sure he came out from behind the leader before the others came up outside him.”