Nervous Witness bounced back to his imperious best when spearheading a Zac Purton four-timer at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
One of this season’s talking horses after winning the first two races of his career by a combined six and a three-quarter lengths, some of the hype surrounding the David Hayes-trained sprinter had started to subside after he’d been a beaten odds-on favourite in his past three starts.
That run of defeats had not affected punters’ confidence in Nervous Witness ahead of the Class Three Hing Tung Handicap (1,000m) as they again backed him down to $1.7 and their money looked safe a long way from home as he was never headed to win by three and a quarter lengths.
Purton was thrilled with the win and revealed just how important front-running is to his mount.
“He won it at the start,” Purton said. “He was brilliant out of the gates tonight, he just travelled on the bit and was full of confidence from the get-go – he loves it when it’s like that, so it was good to see him bounce back and do what he did.
“He finished off well, but he’s always vulnerable late. He’s such a tense horse in the run, he never switches off and gives himself that chance to be strong late but that’s him.”
While Purton had pretty much a steering job aboard Nervous Witness, he showed exactly what a difference he can make in the saddle when he produced yet another sparkling mid-race move to inspire HK Dragon to success in the Class Four Wan Tsui Handicap (1,650m).
That move 600m out impressed HK Dragon’s trainer Douglas Whyte, who was himself a perennial Hong Kong champion jockey, and he was full of admiration for Purton’s ride.
“I know from when I was a jockey that stall eight or nine is a graveyard,” said Whyte. “You need things to go your way and he had a lot of horses on his inside that put him in a difficult situation.
“Zac had a couple of plans and he went back and as Zac does, he changed the complexion of the race at the 600m and that was the winning move.
“It’s probably not ideal for this particular horse as he is very immature and was in front for a long way.”
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The opening Class Five Yue Wan Handicap (1,800m) featured the jockeys’ title in a microcosm with Purton and Joao Moreira fighting out a dead heat.
Moreira’s mount, favourite Lucky Missile, came with a swooping run around the outside turning into the home straight and it appeared at first glance as if he had just run down Purton aboard Telecom Cheetah, who had a less-troubled run in the centre of the track.
But the judge was unable to split the runners after Telecom Cheetah managed to get his head down at the right time to earn himself a share of the spoils.
The Aussie top gun was also successful aboard Joyful Mood, who landed the first section of the Class Four Tsui Lok Handicap (1,200m).
The Manfred Man Ka-leung-trained runner was winning on only his second career start and stuck on well inside the final 100m to hold off the fast-finishing Street Scream by a neck.
Purton now leads Moreira by six in the jockeys’ title race and it appears as if the Magic Man will need to do plenty of conjuring if he is to retain his crown.