When Zac Purton walked Champion’s Way into gate two for the Class 4 Volunteers’ Challenge Cup Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley on Wednesday it was his first ride for John Size since a 13th of 14 finish back on 25 November.
Zac Purton steers Champion's Way to victory, photo HKJC
That fact has everything to do with Joao Moreira who has enjoyed a slick run of form as Size’s stable jockey since his return to Hong Kong in early December.
But Purton had enjoyed five wins from 15 Size rides this term prior to that, and, with the Brazilian ace suspended, the champion trainer turned to the champion jockey to take the sit on one of the stable’s exciting young hopes.
“We’ve got a great record together so hopefully it stays that way,” Purton said after improving his season’s win strike rate on Size gallopers to an impressive 37% - dipping to 35% after Har Har Heart ran second for the pair in the finale.
Champion’s Way, for his part, overcame immaturity to nail an impressive follow-up to his career debut success three weeks ago. The Hinchinbrook three-year-old quickened like a smart talent when the Australian switched him four deep out of the turn; the bay drifted inward, finding the rail’s comfort, and scored by two and a quarter lengths in 1m 09.28s.
“He caught me by surprise and he impressed me with his turn-of-foot and acceleration into the straight,” Purton said of the top-weight.
“After watching his first start he looked like he was off the bit all the way and he was similar in that regard early in the race; when they were trying to cross him he was reluctant to hold his position, he was a little bit unsure about where he was.”
The 1.4 favourite is clearly talented but raw.
“Once he got there he idled so I think there’s more to come and I think he’s a horse that will continue to improve as he goes along. In the last 100 metres he was easing himself up, so if he had something to chase he would have found more,” Purton said.
Champion’s Way completed a Purton double at mid-point on the eight-race card: the Danny Shum-trained Come On Wongchoy had already prevailed for the rider in race two, the Class 5 Fo Tan Handicap (1800m).
The in-form jockey, fresh from a Group 1double at Sha Tin on Sunday, made it a treble when the Ricky Yiu-trained Little Bird dueled hard for the lead and still had reserves to kick on down the straight for a two-length win in the Class 3 Tai Po Handicap (1000m). That was Purton’s 72nd win of the season.