The Premier Plate Handicap (1800m) kicks off a Group 3 double header at Sha Tin on Sunday and the first of the afternoon’s features will see trainer Tony Cruz provide jockeys’ premiership rivals Zac Purton and Joao Moreira each with an opportunity.
“Zac is on Exultant (133lb) and Joao rides Romantic Touch (120lb),” Cruz said. “They’re both very focused and they both want to win, so it’s good for me to have these jockeys on my horses.”
Purton and Moreira both have taken advantage of a blank in the race programme this past Wednesday to head out of town and recharge for the season’s final seven meetings. Purton’s tally of 124 wins has him five clear of the defending champion.
“The way things are, it looks like Joao and Zac could each ride three or four winners; look at last Saturday when they each rode three. Zac has the upper hand in the title race right now but it’s going to be a great battle to the finish,” observed Cruz, a six-time champion jockey in his younger days.
Cruz is in fact triple-handed in the season’s penultimate Pattern race and will rely on Alberto Sanna to maintain a successful partnership with Gold Mount (133lb). Sanna is a long way off the championship pace with 16 wins but the Italian has enjoyed a successful first Hong Kong campaign nonetheless.
Two years ago this week the talented Gold Mount, at that time named Primitivo, galloped to a Royal Ascot victory in the King George V Handicap (2400m). His three Hong Kong wins have come at a mile and 1800m and he heads into the weekend off a pair of fine G1 efforts behind Pakistan Star - second in the APQEII Cup (2000m) and third in last month’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m).
Zac Purton, Exaultant and Tony Cruz, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Purton’s mount, the four-year-old Exultant, was runner-up in the latter contest.
“I’ve been happy with both horses since the Champions & Chater and they’re in there with chances,” Cruz said.
“The step back in distance is a bit shorter than ideal for them but I still think they can run really strong races. They have to carry the weight but they’re the class horses in the race, so they’re going to be tough to beat.”
Sanna, who has been granted a six-month license for next season, is in accord with the handler.
“I won on him at 1800 metres at Happy Valley and I think this race will suit him well,” he said. “Obviously, a longer distance is better for him but I’m very positive. I liked his barrier trial last time, there should be a good pace in the race, which he likes and I think he will run a good race.”
Cruz is content to see the materialisation of the showers that are forecast to hit the famously fast-draining Sha Tin turf over the weekend, which he believes will enhance the chances of Moreira’s mount in particular.
“If there is any give in the ground, all three of mine will enjoy it but especially Romantic Touch,” he said. “The 1800 metres is perfect for that horse, too.”
Also in the field is last year’s winner, the Tony Millard-trained Horse Of Fortune (124lb), who heads in off a fine second to Southern Legend in Singapore’s Kranji Mile (1600m). Karis Teetan was in the plate that day and retains the ride.
“He came back from Singapore feeling very good,” Teetan said. “He never really trials well on the dirt but he went well the other day even after flying back, so I’m happy that he put together a trial like that. He’s a horse that always tries and he seems to be in good form still.
“The top two horses need a longer distance, the low-weights look like they’re maybe not good enough, but this is Horse Of Fortune’s trip, so I think he’s the standout.”
The John Size-trained duo, Dinozzo (125lb) and Prawn Baba (118lb), are also in the line-up, along with the Ricky Yiu-trained Packing Dragon (115lb) and Classic Emperor (113lb) from the Chris So stable.
The day’s second G3 feature is the Premier Cup Handicap (1400m), which features last year’s victor Thewizardofoz and G1 winner Lucky Bubbles. The exciting 10-race card kicks off at 1pm with the Class 4 Tate’s Cairn Handicap (2000m).