Zac Purton took a massive step towards the jockeys’ championship on Wednesday night with a double that leaves Joao Moreira requiring a miraculous final day to win a fourth-straight title.
Moreira opened the night at Happy Valley with a win on Letsgofree to close the gap to two at the top of the championship but Purton hit back with wins on Charity Wings and Saul’s Special to finish the meeting up by four.
Given Purton has a massive edge in the tiebreak of number of seconds, that leaves Moreira needing to ride five more winners than his rival on Sunday’s 11-race card at Sha Tin.
That means a single win for Purton would leave Moreira needing six and a double to the Australian would force Moreira to ride an unlikely seven-timer if he is to keep his crown.
Adding to Moreira’s pain was a HK$180,000 fine for careless riding for his effort in the first.
Despite the big lead, Purton wasn’t convinced the title is his just yet.
“There is still 11 races to go, it’s not over,” Purton said. “Joao has had stronger books of rides over the last month or so and I’ve felt like I’ve just been weathering the storm, so it was nice to come here and extend the lead.”
Purton’s win on Saul’s Special helped Michael Chang Chun-wai reach 16 wins.
“I’m sorry it took me so long,” a relieved Chang said, who has avoided a first strike under the performance criteria.
As impressive as the win was, Chang feels his sprinter will struggle up in grade.
“Class Two is going to be tough for him,” he said. “He was running well in those straight races at times but I think he just reached his mark at Sha Tin.
“Over here at Happy Valley the competition is a bit weaker and he goes well. With a good gate and the best jockey in Hong Kong he had a great chance. He won over 1,400m in Australia so maybe we can try that.”
Saul's Special proves an important winner for both @zpurton, who now holds a four-win lead over Joao Moreira in the Champion Jockey race, and horseman Michael Chang, who gets to the 16-win minimum benchmark for trainers with the R6 victory #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/vnOoD1p3oL— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 11, 2018
Chang may have been relieved but it will be a tense final meeting for Almond Lee as he fights for survival at the season finale.
Victory with Namjong Plus took Almond Lee to 15 wins but the trainer, who has two strikes to his name, still needs one more to ensure he keeps his licence.
The win was the first leg of a double to Matthew Poon Ming-fai, who later scored on Buoyant Boy in the last to keep the Tony Cruz Award interesting.
Poon is two behind Derek Leung Ka-chun in the battle for leading local rider.
Leung got a win of his own on Benno Yung Tin-pang’s Flying Monkey, a horse that was bought via tender earlier in the term.
Derek Leung extends his lead to four over Matthew Poon as he seeks his second consecutive Tony Cruz Award. Leung guided Flying Monkey to victory in R3 at Happy Valley #HKRacing #HappyWednesdayHK pic.twitter.com/WdBKM48efq— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 11, 2018
“I’m happy for the new owners,” Yung said. “It looks like 1,000m is better than 1,200m for him at the moment. It was a great ride to drop him in one off where he did, the solid pace helped.”
Fellow local Vincent Ho Chak-yiu picked up a win on David Hall’s sprinter Super Turbo.
“He felt fit when I worked him so I was confident,” Ho said. “He is always dangerous when he has a good draw like that.”
Dennis Yip Chor-hong is known as one of the flashiest dressers among the training ranks but a lack of a jacket and tie meant he wasn’t part of the winning photo after Fantastic Fabio (Umberto Rispoli) scored.
Scandalous from HKJC security as the most fashionable trainer in the world, Dennis Yip, banned from his own horse’s winning photo earlier for dress standards at Happy Valley. I say anyone with their own custom jeans can do as they please #freetheyipster #freedennis pic.twitter.com/uxznOhALCH— Michael Cox (@KemblaCoxy) July 11, 2018
“He has found his favourite distance. With the right sort of draw he can win his races,” Yip said.