Zac Purton has been the dominant jockey at Happy Valley for the past three years and the superstar wasted no time re-establishing his position at the head of the pack with a stunning quartet on Wednesday night.
Racing returned to the iconic city circuit for the first time this season and while it continues to feel surreal without fans – only 190 owners were present – on the track, normal service resumed.
Purton secured half the card – starting with Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Harmony N Home ($4.60), continuing with the David Hall-trained Melbourne Hall ($10.70) and Alpha Hedge ($3.75) from the Francis Lui Kin-wai yard, before putting the cherry on top with Caspar Fownes’ Guy Dragon ($4.25).
We are only two meetings into a schedule of 88, but the four-time champion is off to a flier and is back atop the table with six winners, three ahead of Joao Moreira and Karis Teetan.
“You always come back hoping you’re going to get some nice rides and a bit of support and fortunately for me tonight I had some nice barriers and some horses that were able to take advantage of it,” Purton said. “Luck takes you a long way in Hong Kong.”
The two stand-out rides came aboard Alpha Hedge and Guy Dragon – controlling the race from the front on the former and electing to hunt an inside run down the straight on the latter.
“I thought I pinched the race [on Alpha Hedge]. We didn’t plan on leading but he began so well and I was able to jump straight into the bridle and dictate the race and run it the way I wanted to,” he said.
“With Guy Dragon, I was stuck behind a horse who was dragging me out of the race and had to pick my way through to get up late. It’s easy to do it from good gates – they certainly help.”
The performance of Melbourne Hall also caught the eye – it’s not often Purton rides a double-figure winner – but he hit the line strongly and seems to have matured in the off-season.
The four-year-old had flashed potential during his debut campaign but couldn’t put it all together, finishing with one placing from eight starts, but he showed what he was capable of in the second section of the Class Four Quarry Bay Handicap (1,200m).
“He’s not a big boy – he’s an English-bred horse – and his first year was always going to be a little bit tough, but he was overdoing things early,” Hall said. “He didn’t have much strength to finish his races off, so we switched him around, rode him a bit cold and brought him [to Happy Valley] but he kept on drawing outside gates and running well, as everyone could see.
“We all know 1,200m is too short for him – he’s going to improve when he gets to 1,400m and 1,600m – so it was just good that he was able to get the job done today. He had a barrier and we were lucky enough to put the top jockey on – he gave him the right passage and got the result.”
Purton wasn’t the only jockey to collect multiple winners on the night, with Teetan steering home Wins All in the opening event before California Rad proved a class above in the seventh race.
After settling midfield, the Tony Cruz-trained sprinter stormed over the top of his rivals in the straight, giving him four wins and two seconds from his past six starts and giving the impression he will be more than competitive when he steps up to Class Two.
The in-form California Rad bursts clear to secure his fourth win from his last six starts, securing a double on the card for the 'Mauritian Magician' @KarisTeetan! #HKracing pic.twitter.com/c6T9VUHCzS— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) September 9, 2020
Chris So Wai-yin took the training honours with an early double, tasting success with stable transfers Wins All and Faithful Trinity.
Both horses spent time at Conghua in the off-season and took advantage of their career-low ratings.
“It’s a great start – I’m very happy,” So said. “The handicap is a big difference. [Faithful Trinity] had never been down to 42 and [for Wins All] it was his first time in Class Five.”
Faithful Trinity was piloted by Vagner Borges, giving the Brazilian his first victory of the season, while Derek Leung Ka-chun also broke his duck on Jimmy Ting Koon-ho’s Momentum Galaxy.