Everything about Sunday’s Class Two BOC Life Handicap (1,000m) suggested it should have been Master Eight’s toughest challenge yet but according to jockey Joao Moreira “it was even easier for him”.
Despite stepping up into Class Two, down to five furlongs and locking horns with fellow boom sprinter Nervous Witness, there was an element of comfort with which the Frankie Lor Fu-chuen-trained Master Eight dispatched his rivals to extend his unbeaten record to four.
“Once again he showed that he’s got quality. He’s won very impressively once again – 1,000m down the straight didn’t stop him and I can describe it by saying it was even easier for him than racing an extra furlong,” Moreira said. “I’m very pleased, proud and I’ve got to congratulate Frankie’s team for doing a great job.”
Master Eight had to defy a betting drift, with Nervous Witness shortening from $2.60 to $1.90 in the three minutes before the jump to replace Lor’s galloper as favourite.
Sent off a $2.20 chance, the four-year-old worked across from gate one to stalk the leading Nervous Witness before taking over at the 300m and saluting by a length and three-quarters, with Hong Kong Win another length and a half away in third.
“I was worried about the distance, his first time at 1,000m, but he was very impressive. You could see when he went with the other horse he still wasn’t too keen, he was still relaxed and it was a good run,” said Lor, who finished the day with a treble to move to 21 victories for the season.
“I don’t know how good he can be but I just hope he can keep improving and he can go up to Group races.”
Lor is hopeful Master Eight, who stopped the clock in 55.42 seconds, can step up into Group One company before the end of the season but in the meantime he could return to 1,200m in a Class Two on international day on December 12, while the Group Three Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1,000m) on January 1 is also on the table.
Nervous Witness has now lost two races on the trot after two scintillating wins to start his career but trainer David Hayes walked away happy enough, confirming his charge could resume hostilities with Master Eight on December 12.
“Master Eight was just too good on the day, Nervous Witness put up his run and wasn’t good enough to win, but he beat all the other Class Two horses,” Hayes said.
Emotional Hall snares double
It was an emotional afternoon for trainer David Hall, who landed an early double after the death of his mother Polly this week.
Adding to the roller-coaster of emotions for Hall was the fact Captain Win, the second leg of the double, was once part-owned by the trainer’s good friend Danny Frawley, an Australian football star who passed away in 2019.
“It’s all a bit tough and this is Danny’s horse as well, so the whole thing is a bit raw at the minute,” said Hall, who could still manage a joke while gathering himself. “Some will be disappointed I didn’t tip it to them but I’m still pretty happy.”
Captain Win was also named after Frawley when racing under the name Captain Spud in Australia, where he won three times from seven starts before being sold to Hong Kong and running ninth on debut over 1,200m last month.
Hall expected plenty of improvement from the four-year-old second-up in the Class Three BOCHK Asset Management Handicap (1,400m) but wasn’t sure he could go as far as winning.
“For him to win today is indicative of what his potential is and I think he can keep going a bit further,” Hall said of the son of Toronado, who will likely be in the Classic Series picture come the new year.
“He’d only been left-handed in Melbourne and coming to Hong Kong and having one run right-handed, distance-wise we thought he’d improve today but he still may have been better suited at 1,600m and he didn’t really hit his top form until they put the blinkers on him in [Australia], so we’re sort of keeping that up our sleeve a little bit.
“Whether he’d win or not was going to be questionable at the distance without the blinkers on and then when he walked out the gates it was looking highly unlikely that he would, but he got his rhythm right and Zac [Purton] was lucky enough to get the right run and pushed him through and got the job done.
“I think he’s a quality horse so they don’t ever surprise you when they can win but as I said, there were just a few little things there that I knew he’d build on today and I knew he’d improve on his first run.”
The first leg of Hall’s double came thanks to Good Buddy, who made it two wins on the trot with victory in the Class Four BOCHK SME In One Handicap (1,400m), also under Purton.
“I think he’s progressive, I think he’s still a work in progress a little bit. He’s out of a Zabeel mare and he’s a bit of an excitable horse,” Hall said.
“He’s taken a big step in his manners from this year to last year. I think we’re still getting there with him, hopefully there’s more to come. There’s scope for more.”
Purton went on to complete a treble aboard Tony Cruz’s impressive three-year-old California Spangle, who coasted to victory in the Class Three BOCHK BOC Pay Handicap (1,200m) to record his third win at start four.
Ting’s big season rolls on
Trainer Jimmy Ting Koon-ho has enjoyed a flying start to 2021-22 and so has his progressive four-year-old Seasons Bliss, who made it two wins from as many starts this season with victory in the Class Four BOCHK Cross-Border Services Handicap (1,200m).
After failing to break through in four starts in his debut campaign, including a couple of defeats as favourite, Seasons Bliss has returned a better horse and Ting expects his upwards spiral to continue.
“He’s improving and I think he will keep on improving. Before the race I was a bit afraid that the weight was a bit heavy but it seems he has improved a lot,” the trainer said.
“I think 1,200m is better but he’s still young. He came out and then he hung in and he lost his way so I think I need to teach him a little more.”
Carrying 133 pounds under jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu, Seasons Bliss let down from midfield to salute at $4.80, holding off Soaring Tower by three-quarters of a length despite being wayward in the straight.
Lor’s debutant En Pointe ran third as the $3.10 favourite after travelling wide throughout under Purton.
The win was Ting’s 16th of the season but first since November 3, with the 49-year-old sitting five victories behind Lor in a share for second with Cruz in the trainers’ premiership.