O’Sullivan, Purton begin post-Aerovelocity era with Members’ Day domination

Trainer Paul O’Sullivan and jockey Zac Purton farewelled one of their favourite horses during the week with the retirement of two-time LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint winner Aerovelocity, but the duo quickly bounced back to dominate Sunday’s Members’ Day race meeting at Sha Tin with a four-timer each.

Paul O’Sullivan celebrates his first Hong Kong four-timer with Karis Teetan, the rider of Class 3 Happy Valley Clubhouse Handicap (1650m) winner Willie Way, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Purton won four of the first five races, joining with O’Sullivan for three of them – taking the Class 5 Beas River Country Club Handicap (1800m) on Aeroluminance (131lb), the Class 4 Oi Suen Handicap (1650m) aboard Namjong Invincible (123lb) and the Class 4 Sha Tin Clubhouse Handicap (1200m) with Starship (131lb). O’Sullivan later won the Class 3 Happy Valley Clubhouse Handicap (1650m) with Karis Teetan-partnered Willie Way (123lb) to complete his quartet.

“I feel like John Size for the day!” O’Sullivan quipped after he brought up his first Hong Kong four-timer after 13 seasons in the territory. “The stable has had a good season in terms of placings, my strike rate isn’t far from John’s in that respect, but with winners it’s been hard. A lot of my horses have run well from tough gates or have just struggled to get to the place where they can break through.

“It makes such a difference when you have a good barrier,” he continued. “Today, all of my winners drew a gate, they had really good runs throughout, and that showed at the finish. You know, life without ‘Aero’ is not going to be that good, but today’s a red letter day, I’ll take more of these!”

O’Sullivan moved to 25 winners for the season, well behind championship leader Size, but he believes that a couple of his winners have the potential to help him start next season strongly.

Starship, trained by Paul O’Sullivan and ridden by Zac Purton, was one of four winners for both handler and jockey, taking the Class 4 Sha Tin Clubhouse Handicap (1200m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

“Starship, Zac said that he really sprinted strongly today even after he struck a little bit of trouble in the straight,” O’Sullivan said. “He had a mid-season break so he could keep going now, but I think next season is when he will be able to make his mark in Class 3. And Namjong Invincible, he has a few issues that mean he just can’t perform to his best on the turf. Now we’ve found out he goes well on the dirt, he might be able to go even higher than we thought.”

“Even Aeroluminance, he might have another win in him, although today felt like he got his gold star for participation. Some horses do go to another level when they win, though, so maybe he will be one of them.”

Purton played the role of friend and foe to Size as the handler chased his own milestone, a new record for wins by any trainer in a season. The current mark of 91 was set by Tony Cruz in the 2004/05 season, and Size entered Sunday’s meeting two adrift on 89.

Hot King Prawn, ridden by Zac Purton and trained by John Size, opened up for a big win in the Beijing Clubhouse Plate (1000m), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Purton and Size combined to win the Beijing Clubhouse Plate (1000m) with griffin Hot King Prawn (127lb) giving Size his 90th winner of the season and setting Purton on a course towards his four–timer.

“He’s had two soft wins against average opposition,” Purton said. “He’s still got a lot ahead of him, but he does everything right – he has good gate speed, he’s got a good head on him and he was prepared well. He gives you a nice feel but until they get put under pressure, that’s when you find what they are made of.”

“I think you’ve just seen the highlight for the day!” Size quipped after the Denman two-year-old produced an impressive five and three-quarter length triumph.

The trainer was right, at least with his own string; he drew a blank for the remainder of the card as a number of his well-fancied runners finished around the money without breaking through, setting up a potential challenge for the record at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (21 June) where he has six runners.

For Purton, the four winners inched him closer to his own personal goal of 100 wins for the season; he now sits on a total of 97 wins. The only time he has cracked the century before was in his championship-winning season in 2013/14, when he reached 111 wins.

“We were hoping we could have a day like that today,” Purton said. “I have had things against me the last couple of seasons, a couple of injuries, that have meant I haven’t been able to quite get to 100. This time, hopefully we can get there – today will help.”