Trainer Chris So welcomed his first four-time winner of the campaign after the treble-scoring Purton utilised Best Reward’s ample stamina to take race four, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Medicine Handicap (2200m).
The Holy Roman Emperor gelding may not hit the same level as his half-brother Roseburg, third in last season’s G1 Coronation Cup (2400m), but the bay has clearly inherited plenty of staying power from his dam, the In The Wings mare Raydaniya.
“I’m very impressed with the horse,” So said after the 3.9 favourite had notched his fourth win on end at start 17. “When we got him, the owner told me he was a good horse – I thought the horse was useful and we just needed patience because he needed distance. Now he’s won two on dirt and two on the grass. I thought he’d keep on winning, he needed to go further and you can see the way he runs that he was going to get better up in distance – if he went 2400 (metres) he’d still win.”
Few would argue with that opinion after watching the five-year-old gallop three and a half lengths clear of his 12 opponents this afternoon, stopping the clock at 2m 14.84s, despite shouldering 132lb.
“He’s improved a lot – you can see that from his trackwork,” So continued. “I was a little worried about the weight he was carrying but I thought he’d be alright because he’s a strong horse, almost 1100 pounds.
“The first section was a bit fast and then it slowed down and you could see he was different compared to his last couple of runs, the horse was happy and he’s come up and relaxed again, and at the 600 he’s been able to go again.”
Zac Purton guides Best Reward to a fourth straight win in the HKU Faculty Of Medicine Handicap, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Best Reward ranked last heading into the first turn after breaking from stall 11 but, when Jolly Amber (103lb) took the lead and slackened the pace at the head of the backstretch, Purton allowed his mount to roll. The Irish-bred advanced three-wide, slipstreaming the forward-moving Garlic Yeah (122lb) to sit second outside that rival on the top turn and then grinding by with 250m to go.
“They steadied up, which enabled him just to cruise past them without doing too much and he doesn’t stop,” Purton said. “Stamina – that’s his asset.”
Purton notched the second leg of his treble atop 21/1 chance Perpetual Joyance for Size in race six, the Class 3 HKU Faculty of Science Handicap (1200m). The rider played the role of super sub after Sam Clipperton was injured and stood down – his mount, Grade One, withdrawn – after an incident in the starting gate before race five. And he completed his three-timer in the last, the Class 3 HKU SPACE Handicap (1600m) atop the John Moore-trained Go Beauty Go, another spare resulting from Clipperton’s mishap. Purton is now just eight shy of his second Hong Kong century, with nine meetings remaining this term.
Immediately after Clipperton’s misfortune, Umberto Rispoli edged a will-he-won't-he duel to the wire in the Class 4 University Hall Handicap (1600m). The Italian’s mount Po Ching Treasure (118lb) slipped up the inside rail to head the Moreira-ridden favourite Infinity Endeavour (129lb). But once there, the Caspar Fownes-trained gelding seemed to have second thoughts as the Size-trained 2.9 favourite rallied, only to fail by a nose on the nod.
“He got there and then he just thought he’d done enough and tried to stop,” Fownes said after watching the 14/1 shot break his Hong Kong maiden at start 39. “He’s got it in him to win again… but you wouldn’t hold your breath!”
Moreira kicked off his double with a fine piece of jockeyship on the Michael Chang-trained Silly Buddies in race three, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Business & Economics Handicap (1200m, all-weather).
“If I didn't have Joao today, honestly, I don't think the horse would have won. He gave it the perfect ride,” Chang said after the 4.7 shot had quickened up the inner to score by a length.
Apprentice Matthew Poon teamed up with trainer Benno Yung to land a double: the duo took the first, the Class 4 HKU Faculty of Architecture Handicap (1000m) with 7.9 chance Lunar Zephyr and teamed up again in race eight to win the HKU Faculty of Engineering Handicap (1200m, all-weather) with 8/1 top-weight Perpetual Treasure (133lb).
Fellow 10lb apprentice Dylan Mo took race two, the Class 5 HKU Faculty of Dentistry Handicap (1200m, all-weather) aboard the Peter Ho-trained Massive Move, a 19/1 shot.
So doubled up with the Derek Leung-ridden Classic Emperor in an eventful race nine, the Class 3 HKU Faculty of Arts Handicap (1400m). Jockeys Keith Yeung and Ben So both hit the turf after Yeung’s mount, Victory Day, hit the inside rail and pitched his rider, resulting in apprentice So being unseated from Mr Potential.
Hong Kong racing will resume at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 14 June.