Having an embarrassment of riches when it comes to deciding on rides is nothing new for Zac Purton and Joao Moreira but it seems their decisions for this Sunday’s Classic Mile have come with as much uncertainty – and potential regret – as any big race in recent memory.
Purton rides Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Packing Victory, who could well start favourite, and Moreira climbs aboard the John Size-trained Master Delight, who will also be prominent in the market.
There’s nothing wrong with the rides they have settled on – it’s a wide open race in the absence of Fantastic Treasure and, in the game of musical chairs, they were the best on offer when they were asked to commit.
But things have moved quickly and it’s more about who they’re not on that could be creating concern for Hong Kong’s big guns.
California Spangle - a star in the making! 💫— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 25, 2022
Can he successfully manage a mile in Sunday's HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile? #4YOSeries #HKracing pic.twitter.com/Y2Ac3J5Pc0
Purton committed early to Packing Victory and it’s difficult to fault his decision to ride a galloper who has hardly put a foot wrong while amassing four wins and two seconds from six starts and looks all but assured of running out a strong mile.
But had he not settled on Packing Victory before partnering California Spangle to a commanding victory on January 16, it would have no doubt been an agonising decision for the four-time champion jockey.
Purton has been full of praise for Packing Victory throughout the journey but it’s clear he’s also very wary of what California Spangle could produce this weekend, even if he is stepping up from 1,200m to a mile.
“He’s a special horse – I think he’s really exciting and I really like him,” Purton said.
Impressive, again! 🤯 2021 Hong Kong International Sale graduate Romantic Warrior extended his record to a perfect four at Sha Tin on Sunday. #HKIS #HKracing pic.twitter.com/Eo7DHJNtVT— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 17, 2022
“He’s got the action and I think he’s got the pedigree to be able to run a mile, but whether he can jump straight from 1,200m to 1,600m, that’s the question mark.”
As it turns out, Purton and Packing Victory have drawn gate four while California Spangle and Matthew Chadwick – who won a swag of Group Ones aboard California Memory a decade ago – have been lumped with barrier 13.
As for Moreira, he made a commitment to Master Delight but has spoken about the difficulty he had in settling on his ride for the opening leg of the four-year-old series.
On the same card Purton partnered California Spangle to his most recent win, the Magic Man saluted aboard Shum’s Romantic Warrior and Size’s Sight Spirit – both of whom head into the Classic Mile boasting impressive winning streaks.
Sight Spirit, far too good for a hat-trick of wins and an afternoon treble for Joao Moreira! 🔥 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/zRAz6VEdug— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 16, 2022
“Today’s meeting is going to give us a very good guide to the possible winner of the Classic Mile,” Moreira said after that January 16 fixture.
He stuck with Master Delight all the same despite suggesting he’s “not sure if he can win the Classic Mile but he will be very well placed when he steps up in distance”, and to make matters worse his charge jumps from the outside gate in the field of 14.
Moreira will no doubt be watching the mounts of Karis Teetan (Romantic Warrior) and Vagner Borges (Sight Spirit) with interest on Sunday and was particularly complimentary of Sight Spirit after his last victory.
Joao Moreira chooses Classic Mile ride as field becomes clearer
Size knows how to win a Classic Mile, having snared three of the past six including last year’s edition with Excellent Proposal, and perhaps Moreira’s countryman Borges will again be there to pick up his scraps this weekend.
Besides his main man Moreira, who has ridden 19 of the veteran handler’s 39 victories this season, Borges is the only jockey to hit double figures for Size in a campaign since Frenchman Olivier Doleuze booted home 10 winners for him in 2017-18.
Borges already has 11 victories for Size just 40 meetings into 2021-22 at a strike rate of 14 per cent and if Moreira’s opinion of Sight Spirit translates to the racetrack, the pair are in with a chance of teaming up for their biggest victory so far.