Zac Purton will have the second of two “free hits” at Sha Tin on Sunday when he hopes to take advantage of Joao Moreira’s absence and take pole position in the jockeys’ championship with only one month of the season remaining.
Moreira, who has opted to leave Hong Kong at the end of the campaign, will sit out the 11-race Members’ Day card due to suspension. Purton is one win behind the three-time champion and at the weekend has 10 chances to match and surpass his rival’s current tally of 116 wins.
One of those, Handsome Bo Bo, has been a fine ally this term, providing the Australian ace with three of his 115 victories to date. But the three-year-old will be seeking to get back to winning ways in the weekend’s Class 3 Beas River Equestrian Centre Handicap (1200m) after running only 10th last start.
“That was just a mess,” Purton said at a wet and windy Sha Tin this morning. “I sort of got caught napping a little bit going into the first corner and copped two bits of interference. That just put me out of the race.”
That failed attempt at a fourth course and distance win at the gelding’s fifth start came three weeks ago: Purton believes Manfred Man’s charge is in good heart to shoulder top-weight of 133lb in the 12-runner contest.
“He feels good,” he said. “He’s been playing up in the morning, which is a good sign. He hasn’t had a hard season and I don’t think the runs have got to him yet, he’s still in good form and hopefully he can bounce back.
“He’s been a tremendously consistent horse. We took him to the races first time out knowing that he was underdone and we thought his ability would be enough to get him across the line, but he came up just a little bit short. Then from every run he’s just got a little bit better and last time was a ‘forgive’, so he’s done everything right.”
Handsome Bo Bo completes a hat-trick of wins earlier this season, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The afternoon is set to begin at 12.30pm with a seven-runner Griffin contest, the Moon Koon Plate down the 1000m straight. Purton will partner the David Hall-trained Quadruple Double, seeking a first win after commencing his career with two runner-up efforts behind the smart Styling City.
“He’ll have a good chance, it’s only a small field and he’s had a couple of starts now so he knows what he’s doing,” the former Champion Jockey said. “I worked him down the back on Thursday morning and he seemed to handle wet conditions well, so if it happens to be wet, I think he’ll handle that.”
Should Purton pass Moreira’s tally on Sunday, it would be the first time this season that the reigning champ will have been headed. The rider admitted to some regret that his number one rival will be leaving.
“I’m actually a little bit sad that he’s going, I’ve enjoyed the competition and it’s going to be different without him here,” he said.
“I knew it was coming. Joao and I have had plenty of discussions in the jockeys’ room about it. I did think he’d probably do one more season but I think the way things have gone towards the back end of this season, he just felt like the time was right for him to move on.”
The afternoon’s trophy race is the Class 3 Members Cup Handicap (1200m), which has attracted 11 runners and is due off at 4.05pm.
Tommy Berry, who will be heading back to Australia at the season’s conclusion, is set to partner first-time Hong Kong starter Stimulation in the Class 2 Happy Valley Clubhouse Handicap (1800m). The Deep Impact four-year-old was a G3 winner at 1600m as a juvenile, and last term was placed in G2 company at 2000m and 2400m.
“He’s given me a nice feel every time but he’s still very raw and has a lot to learn,” Berry said of the Tony Cruz-trained galloper. “I think Tony’s gone the right way about giving him the three trials and getting him fit enough for 1800 metres first-up and I think he’ll be very competitive but whatever he does he’ll improve on into next season.”
The afternoon will conclude at 5.45pm with the Class 3 Racing Club Handicap (1400m), for which a full field of 14 is slated to go to post.