Classy four-year-old Doctor Geoff helped maintain Zac Purton’s lead at the top of the jockeys’ championship on a night the Australian feared his rival Joao Moreira could dominate.
Moreira looked to have a far stronger book of rides than his rival at Happy Valley and started the night with wins in the first two races before Purton later hit back with Doctor Geoff’s stylish Class Two victory.
Purton now has 127 wins to Moreira’s 123 with five meetings remaining in the term but said he had expected worse, especially after the Brazilian’s fast start.
“I came here thinking Joao would have a big night, so to get out of here two-one, it’s probably a big result for me,” Purton said, adding that Doctor Geoff’s success as odds-on favourite was crucial.
“He was my only decent ride of the night. He won well but it was a very winnable race for him, some of those horses had been up for a while and looked tired. The only threat was Joao’s ride Insayshable, and he was first-up from a break.”
The featured Manawatu Racing Club Challenge Trophy was easily taken by Doctor Geoff and @zpurton. The galloper scored his first Hong Kong victory with this win #HKRacing #HappyWednesdayHK pic.twitter.com/bqObeNlobe— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 27, 2018
Doctor Geoff’s trainer Tony Cruz said Purton’s class was instrumental in getting the sometimes wayward gelding travelling truly.
“Zac is at the top of his game right now, he rode him perfectly,” Cruz said. “This horse is probably better suited to the Valley and that means he might not get many chances to show his best, but next season he might be able to run some nice races at a mile over at Sha Tin.”
Cruz later brought up a double when Double Valentine (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) swooped late to nab a Class Three.
Double Valentine, placed behind Churchill in the G3 Tyros Stakes as a juvenile, breaks his Hong Kong maiden at his 17th local start, showing a swift turn of foot under Vincent Ho #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/gJWUbAT46E— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 27, 2018
“I got squeezed out at the start, but he didn’t show much speed anyway,” Ho said. “I was pushing all the way, but I got checked at the turn so that adds something to the win. When he came to win he still didn’t quite know what to do. He is still a baby so there is some improvement there.”
Moreira looked in ominous form early as Penzance scored narrowly and Jolly Bountiful swooped in the second race.
It took all of the Valley’s 2,200m for Penzance to get his first win but trainer David Hall said the stout stayer’s best distance, unfortunately, is even further.
“He is definitely in the wrong country,” Hall said. “He gets hot, he is one-paced and he needs two miles, and none of those attributes are suitable here. But now that he has stuck his neck out and won a race, maybe that will give him some confidence to go on with things next season.”
Moreira nearly made it three wins from the first four races when Sichuan Boss loomed as the winner, only for leader Megatron (Karis Teetan) to rally on his inside.
“We looked at the race and didn’t think there was much speed, so we took the opportunity to lead and control the race from in front,” Megatron’s trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai said.
“It looked like Joao’s horse had him but the light weight made the difference. To be honest he is only a Class Four horse, but I guess he will bounce around in the grade and win his share of races.”
Danny Shum Chap-shing was more complimentary of in-form Italian jockey Alberto Sanna than his Class Three winner Cerefino, with the trainer fearing soundness issues will hold the New Zealand import back.
“Joints, feet and some lameness,” Shum said as he listed a litany of issues. “He has only just won tonight and I’m glad he did but I think he is just a Class Three horse.”
Cerefino proves too strong near the lead, taking R6 at Happy Valley for @Albe_Sanna. The 4YO also provided trainer Danny Shum with his 50th win of the season #HKRacing #HappyWednesdayHK pic.twitter.com/YvPXvvWH6C— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 27, 2018
Shum was a staunch supporter of banned jockey Nash Rawiller and he may have found an able replacement as the stable go-to guy in Sanna.
“I wouldn’t put him in the same class as Nash yet, but he tries hard in a finish, he is physically fit and strong and rides 116 pounds. I like him,” Shum said.
Paul O’Sullivan’s Oriental Elite has caught the eye with some sharp sectionals at times but has also brought himself undone with his green racing manners in his first campaign.
The four-year-old finally got things his way as Douglas Whyte navigated a passage between horses late to win his maiden at start seven.
“Wide draws meant you could forget his first few starts,” O’Sullivan said. “I think the speed back at 1,000m helped him, he got the perfect, smooth run. I hope he has some upside and can climb into Class Three next season.”
Meanwhile, Ben So Tik-hung was the only jockey to earn the wrath of stewards, copping a two-meeting suspension for careless riding on Beaut Beaut in the third race.