All-weather track racing is derided as second-rate by some but dirt wins have been the difference in the jockeys’ championship so far and Sunday’s final three races of the season could prove pivotal in the battle between Zac Purton and Joao Moreira.
Moreira has had 16 more wins than Purton on the Sha Tin turf (76-60) and Purton 15 more wins than his arch rival at Happy Valley (49-34), but on dirt Purton has a four-win edge (20-16).
So it is telling that Purton leads by three wins heading into the final three meetings and holds a clear edge in the tiebreaker of most seconds, making his lead four in real terms.
Sunday’s three dirt races, all 1,200m sprints, feature the two top jockeys on leading chances.
In the Class Five Wong Chuk Wan Handicap, Moreira seems to have an edge as he sticks with Snowhooves after he was beaten by the narrowest of margins last time out by a Purton-ridden mount.
Purton extracted just enough from Sky Treasure in an epic head-to-head Class Five duel as Snowhooves challenged on his outside on June 16.
Snowhooves has drawn the same barrier, two, and still gets in well with 118 pounds after going up four points.
Purton hops back on Ever Strong for Manfred Man Ka-leung after a course and distance success on the four-year-old three starts back.
Ever Strong hasn’t dropped a point since despite an unthreatening fifth, beaten nearly five lengths, when given every chance behind Sky Treasure and Snowhooves.
The danger could be Richard Gibson’s Corre Rapido, especially with jockey Neil Callan keen to continue his late-season surge.
The Class Four Shui Long Wo Handicap gives Purton a better chance as Paul O’Sullivan’s course and distance specialist Amazing Moment returns with another good draw.
Course, distance and Class Four specialist might be a more apt description for a six-year-old with an excellent record on the inner track when at the top of the grade.
Amazing Moment actually has a reasonable record on turf and dirt in Class Four but in the grade on dirt he has a win, a second and a last start fourth on his resume.
Last time out, Victor Wong Chun surrendered too much race position and momentum on the turn before Amazing Moment stormed home.
Purton, who was aboard for the two previous course and distance performances in Class Four, won’t make the same mistake and will stay handy to the speed and know when to get moving.
Amazing Moment finished just behind Moreira’s mount Giddy Giddy and the John Size-trained stable stalwart backs up again for his 13th start this season.
Giddy Giddy is no superstar, not even in his own yard, but in the 88-meeting era a horse like that is worth his weight in gold.
This will be the roan gelding’s 45th start in three seasons and the six-year-old has shown remarkable consistency over the course and distance.
In the Class Three Lai Chi Chong Handicap, Purton (Beauty Energy) and Moreira (Red Marvel) find themselves on horses free falling through the grades.
Instead look to either speedy types Encore Boy (Karis Teetan) and California Archer (Sam Clipperton) to fight out the finish.
It is Encore Boy’s dirt debut but the four-year-old’s dirt trials have caught the eye.
California Archer has again drawn wide after running a gallant second to Joyful Moments at his first try on the surface three weeks ago.
The situation doesn’t look any less awkward and California Archer will have to work hard from barrier 10 to gain a handy position and that might give the better-drawn Encore Boy the edge.