Normally you’d think if Zac Purton had to partner a horse nine times in the mornings and wait for two other jockeys to have their turn on race day before taking the reins himself, he might just lose interest.
Not all gallopers are Romantic Warrior, however, and on Sunday, Purton will finally jump aboard the three-time Group One winner in a race a full seven and a half months after trialling him for the first time.
It’s been somewhat of a labour of love for Purton, who has ridden Danny Shum Chap-shing’s superstar in three trials this season, but it’ll all be worth it if they combine to win this weekend’s Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) before turning their attention to more glory in tandem next season.
“I’ve done a lot of work on him – a lot of trackwork and a few trials – so it’s nice to finally get the opportunity to ride him in a race,” Purton said. “I knew at some stage I was going to ride him in a race. It was just a matter of when.”
WHAT. A. RACE!? 😱— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 20, 2022
It's a vintage renewal of the 145th @BMW Hong Kong Derby as Romantic Warrior narrowly overhauls California Spangle for @KarisTeetan & Danny Shum. 🔥#4YOSeries | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/A2h4SqW1FG
While it was Karis Teetan who partnered Romantic Warrior to Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) and Group One QE II Cup (2,000m) success last season as Purton pinned his four-year-old hopes on California Spangle, star Kiwi jockey James McDonald entered the frame early this season when a thyroid condition sidelined the Mauritian.
McDonald steered Romantic Warrior to victory in November’s Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) and December’s Group One Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) before jumping back aboard for the five-year-old’s successful QE II Cup defence last start after Teetan fell out of favour following two defeats by Golden Sixty.
Purton was also in the conversation ahead of Romantic Warrior’s first-up run in the Jockey Club Cup, but the planets didn’t quite align.
While Shum said at the time Purton had been offered the ride, and Purton maintained he made it clear to the veteran handler he was available should Romantic Warrior resume in the Jockey Club Cup – rather than lock horns with California Spangle in the Group Two Jockey Club Mile on the same card – the jockey declared in late November that “Danny didn’t offer it to me”.
It's Romantic Warrior's @LONGINES Hong Kong Cup! The 2022 Hong Kong International Sale graduate is far too good for them under @mcacajamez. #HKIR | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/oJL39wycqX— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 11, 2022
“It was hard to know what was happening at the time,” Purton recalls before quickly shifting focus back to the task at hand.
“He’s our premier mile-and-a-quarter horse. Whether the mile and a half is going to be as suitable for him, we’re going to find out. It’s not often you have a horse win over 1,200m and still be able to win over 2,400m, so that’s the challenge he faces.
“But to offset that, it looks like he’s in really good shape. I galloped him this morning and he pulled up extremely well. He wouldn’t have blown a candle out, so I think he’s in as good a form as he can be in. He’s going to need to be able to relax to give himself a chance to run the distance, but he certainly gets his chance – especially against these horses.”
Leung replaces De Sousa aboard Money Catcher for Sunday’s Group One
Romantic Warrior tackles past Champions & Chater Cup victors Panfield and Russian Emperor, as well as in-form rising star Straight Arron, Senor Toba, Money Catcher, Columbus County, Natural Storm and Five G Patch.
Purton has two Champions & Chater Cups on his mantle, with both coming thanks to wins from Exultant as the $1.5 favourite – a quote similar to what Romantic Warrior could step out as he looks to complete a fine season.
“He’s clearly a different horse to Exultant. Exultant was an out-and-out stayer, and he thrived over this distance, whereas Romantic Warrior is sharp enough to win over a mile and is perfectly suited to 2,000m, so I’m going to have to help him run the distance,” he said.