Champion jockey Zac Purton insists he is no johnny-come-lately on Classic Cup favourite More Than This, pointing out that he was the first jockey in Hong Kong to ride the prized import.
The Australian unseated Englishman Ryan Moore for the ride after he ran a slashing second in last month’s Classic Mile but says he has a strong connection with the horse despite never riding him on race day.
Trackwork records show Purton consistently rode the then three-year-old after he arrived in Hong Kong before he went on to win races for Alfred Chan Ka-hei and Karis Teetan.
“People forget that when this horse came to Hong Kong, I did all the work on him,” Purton said.
“I rode him for months in trackwork and I rode him in all his barrier trials so it isn’t as if this horse has just come to me out of nowhere.
“I have had an association with him for a long time, I just haven’t ridden him on race day.”
Purton admits he should have ridden the four-year-old in the Classic Mile, saying he spent too much time looking for other horses before eventually being left with Star Performance, who could only manage to run fifth.
“I was hedging my bets too much, the offer was there but I was trying out a number of different horses and obviously [they] didn’t do what I wanted them to do,” he said. “Luckily for me I have been able to find myself back on a nice horse.”
More Than This looks to have the credentials to be a worthy Derby contender, giving Purton hope he will be able to secure the prestigious race for a second time.
“I think he is the right horse, he has never been beyond a mile so you have always got to question whether they can run the distance and run it strongly,” he said. “He does give the impression that he is going to be able to do that, but he has to come out and do it, it is not a given.”
Sunday’s Classic Cup throws up a few curveballs to a horse like More Than This with no obvious pacemaker in the 10-horse field.
With the 1,800m start giving horses and jockeys a long run into the turn, the Classic Cup has become notorious for boilovers.
Mission Tycoon took out the event last year at $92, Thunder Fantasy saluted at $23 in 2015 and It Has To Be You prevailed at knockout odds of $126 in 2013. Only three favourites have ever won the race.
“In these small fields, there is generally less pressure so that means they are run at a more sedate tempo and the worry that I see in this race is all the horses that can race handy have drawn low,” Purton said.
“I can’t really see anyone putting too much pressure on anyone else to quickly try and get a position. I have drawn out obviously, we will have to go back most probably and then I am in the lap of how the race is going to be run.
“It doesn’t look great but my horse is going very well and he has trialled well. He is working well, he gives me a good feel, I just hope that he gets a chance to show his best.”
Meanwhile, More Than This’ stablemate Golden Sixty is a confirmed starter in the race after trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai declared it was all systems go.
The Classic Mile winner came down with a temperature last week but the handler says he has bounced back in time for the race.
“I’m a little bit worried but he’s been scoped, we’ve kept an eye on his blood count and that’s all fine, he looks like he has recovered quickly,” Lui said.
“He’s going from 1,600m to 1,800m so there are more questions in my mind about Golden Sixty than More Than This for this race, but it’s hard to say what the result will be.”