By David Morgan
Hong Kong: Exultant battled to victory in the HK$10 million Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin on 26th May as man-of-the-moment Zac Purton notched a record seventh Group 1 win in a Hong Kong season, one more than the six Joao Moreira achieved in 2014/15.
The star stayer’s success was Purton’s fourth in a sparkling six-timer today that included both Group race features – his G1 score followed a triumph on the David Hall-trained Little Giant in the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m). And it could have been a magnificent Purton seven had Fast Most Furious not failed by a nose in the finale.
“It’s been a nice day, I can’t complain!” Hong Kong’s champion said.
The Australian ace landed back in Hong Kong early this morning after coasting to victory atop Southern Legend in Singapore’s SIN G1 Kranji Mile last night.
Exultant’s win – an equal blend of guts and class from the Tony Cruz-trained gelding– took Purton’s season’s tally in Hong Kong to 130. He ended proceedings on 132, just four shy of his all-time best.
“Exultant was all heart today,” the rider said. “He pulled in the run, which he hasn’t done for quite some time and he was gone at the 600 (metres) but his big heart just continued to carry him to the finish line. It was a good, tough, strong effort from a horse that hasn’t let us down, he’s been great all season. That’s credit to the horse and Tony.”
The 1.5 favourite settled fourth of nine behind front-running stablemate Time Warp and was under the pump on the final turn. Purton shifted his mount to a four-wide track at the top of the home straight as last year’s winner Pakistan Star edged out and quickened past to a narrow lead.
But Exultant dug deep for his rider and when Pakistan Star hit his limit inside the 200m mark, the Irish import just kept on galloping to register his third G1 score this term, all but bagging the end-of-season Champion Stayer title.
“He’s our best stayer and he showed that again today,” Purton said.
Pakistan Star faded to fourth as the Caspar Fownes-trained Rise High ran a career best second and the Frankie Lor-trained Dark Dream chased from deep to claim third.
Cruz, who began training in 1996, had to wait until 2013 to saddle a Champions & Chater Cup winner; today’s success was his sixth in the historic race.
Trainer, jockey and owners Eddie Wong and Wong Leung Sau-hing had been keen to travel to Japan for the five-year-old’s proposed next start in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen at the end of June.
“He wasn’t very comfortable on the going, I think he’s better on good to firm, and he was running a bit freely today,” Cruz said before revealing that, “the owners, myself and the jockey, we all decided just now not to go to Japan. It’s a short run-in at Hanshin and the going is almost always on a soft track, so with those things in mind we’ll give him a break.
“Next season, maybe the trip is Dubai, that’s the race we have in our calendar if we do decide to travel him.”
Aethero leads Moore charge
Purton kicked off the day with an impressive win on Aethero, trainer John Moore’s exciting juvenile.
While the jockeys’ premiership is all but done and dusted, Moore did all he could to set the trainers’ title race on fire. Hong Kong’s seven-time champion charged up and grabbed a fistful of defending champion John Size’s coat tails but the latter pocketed three wins of his own to shake him off and hold a 67-60 lead at end of play.
Aethero had already notched a cruising win at 1000m heading into the card’s opening contest. If anything, the big chestnut’s first race around the turn was even easier: by the time he reached the end of the 1200m run, the Australian-bred was decelerating to a casual lope and Purton was getting a sore neck from glancing back into the distance to spot a challenger.
“Zac came back and was full of praise for him, he said this is very good, so he’s giving him the right feel. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s stage by stage, he’s still got to make his way right to the big time,” Moore said.
“We’ll take it race by race and we’ll see how he handles it. He doesn’t carry a lot of weight over those legs – he’s got that great athletic look about him.”
The Sebring gelding was only up against fellow Griffins in the Liberator Plate, five of which were debutants, but that detracted little from an imposing victory that oozed quality.
“That’s about as good as it gets (in a Griffin race), so we’ll look for a Class 3 now because he’s going to go up to a rating of 74 or 76 or something – (the handicapper) is going to hammer him, but it’s to be expected,” Moore said.
Thanks Forever is a year older than Aethero but the Duporth gelding was making only his second career start, having gone almost a full year since an impressive winning debut.
It was worth the wait. The three-year-old showed gears under Purton as he brushed off the speedy and hitherto unbeaten Voyage Warrior by three and a quarter lengths in the Class 3 Werther Handicap (1000m).
Purton was on the mark again for Moore when Touch Of Luck landed the Class 4 Packing Winner Handicap (1600m) and wrapped up his six-timer in race 10 aboard the Dennis Yip-trained Splendour And Gold.
James McDonald did the driving on the Moore-trained Monica to win the Class 4 Mr Medici Handicap (1400m).
Former champion jockey Moreira bagged a fine four-timer. His first three wins came on the Size-trained Shining Ace and Aerohappiness, and the Michael Chang-trained Surewin.
The Size-trained Hezthewonforus (121lb) wrapped things up with a thrilling win in the last, the Class 2 Viva Pataca Handicap (1400m). The Brazilian judged his ride to perfection, kicking for home at the top of the straight and repelling the rattling late drive of Fast Most Furious (120lb) to ensure he remained the only rider in Hong Kong history to ride more than six winners in one day. Moreira holds the record at eight.
That win also brought up an impressive milestone for 10-time champion trainer Size, being his 1,200th Hong Kong win.
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday 29th May.