A rails draw isn’t always advantageous on the all-weather track but it should help three-year-old Elite Boy as Zac Purton looks to eat into Joao Moreira’s jockeys’ championship lead on Wednesday night at Sha Tin.
With most of the Group One races over, the battle between Purton and Moreira for the title looms as the storyline that will dominate the rest of the season.
Another three wins on Sunday, including two Group Ones, gave Purton 13 in the four meetings since he returned from a suspension on April 18.
Purton has been striking at a phenomenal 38 per cent, with 13 wins and 11 placings from just 34, during that stretch.
A four-timer on March 25 triggered a month-long run where Purton was on fire – the Australian has ridden 19 winners from 53 rides at 30 per cent since then and Moreira’s lead is now just six with 21 meetings remaining in the term.
That four-timer included a resounding six-length dirt win by Elite Boy that put the youngster up 11 points – a leap the sprinter didn’t handle next time out.
It wasn’t just that Elite Boy had leapt to 66 points for a solitary career win, but a tricky draw and tough competition also brought Michael Freedman’s youngster undone two weeks ago.
With Purton taking the ride on favourite Ugly Warrior, Moreira took over on Elite Boy and things didn’t go to plan.
Moreira pushed forward from barrier nine and when it became clear he couldn’t cross, the Brazilian tried to take a hold but ended up three-wide with no cover up on the speed.
Ugly Warrior covered less ground sitting outside the leader and kicked away for a comprehensive victory but Elite Boy wasn’t disgraced, finishing less than three lengths behind.
Now Elite Boy goes up another one pound, meaning Purton can ride at his usual minimum of 120 pounds in the Class Three Stanley Handicap (1,200m).
Barrier one on the dirt can be a trap, especially if a horse lacks some early gate speed, as it can mean either using too much energy early or getting stuck behind other runners.
Elite Boy will face some pressure; especially if the rail or on-pace has proven to be the place to be throughout the night, but if he can hold out the fence will help the relatively inexperienced sprinter maintain focus.
A tendency to hang under pressure surfaced last start, something that leading along the fence seems to take out of the equation, and the draw combined with the better run should see Elite Boy on the straight and narrow.
Elite Boy looms as a great chance in the last but it could be also a case of bookending the card with Fantastic Fabio standing out in the Class Five opener.
Purton reunites with Fantastic Fabio in the Class Five Chung Hom Kok Handicap (1,200m) for the first time since an easy course and distance win in September.
After a string of unplaced finishes in Class Four, Fantastic Fabio’s rating has returned to a more realistic mark and the four-year-old has placed at his past two starts.
The son of Hidden Dragon is blessed with enough gate speed to hold his position and lead, but is versatile to adapt to trailing if Purton feels he needs to hand up.
One to watch in the race is the Tony Cruz-trained Regency Honey (Brett Prebble) who heads to the dirt for the first time after showing some decent form at Sha Tin.