Fownes hoping Bigwood can bloom again as Purton bids to stretch clear

Bigwood opens his Hong Kong account under Zac Purton. Source: Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The race for the jockeys’ championship has been neck and neck for the first 10 weeks of the season but the tide could be about to take an important turn in Zac Purton’s favour.

Karis Teetan has been matching Purton almost winner for winner since the start of September and drew level with the champion on 24 wins when Clement Legend landed Saturday’s first race at Sha Tin.

But Teetan also picked up a potentially costly two-meeting ban for that ride.

Purton ended the day three clear after a quickfire treble and has the opportunity to put clear daylight between himself and the Mauritian with a potent book of rides at Happy Valley this Wednesday (13 November).

The Aussie is active in seven of eight races and has the potential to end the night in style thanks to a trio of recent winners comprising Country Star, Bigwood and Red Warrior.

Bigwood gained his first Hong win for Fownes at Sha Tin last month, while Country Star and Red Warrior have looked highly progressive for champion trainer John Size by winning two apiece at Happy Valley.

Fownes says he will be “disappointed if we don’t snag a couple of winners” from a six-strong team and is happy to see Bigwood drawn in gate one as he steps up from 1600m to 1800m in the Class 3 Kyoto Handicap.

“I was very happy with his effort last time,” he said. “He’s going to the Valley for the first time and stepping up in trip but he’s drawn the plum gate so he’ll get his chance to handle the track and make his presence felt.

“I’d like to see another 40 or 50 pounds of body weight on him but he remains well and if he takes to the track he ought to run very well, too.”

Country in search of Valley hat-trick

The handicapper is making life harder for Country Star and Red Warrior but Size has few equals when it comes to coaxing improvement from lightly-raced horses and nothing he said at trackwork this morning (Tuesday, 13 November) suggests this progressive pair have reached the end of their progress.

Country Star has impressed twice over 1200m at Happy Valley and will bid to defy an eight-point rise for a third course-and-distance success in the Class 3 Japan Racing Association Trophy (1200m).

Size said: “His improvement has been notable and he’s been nothing but impressive so far.”

Country Star’s latest win was franked when runner-up Little Bird flew home on last Wednesday’s Valley card and a recent trial second on the AWT behind Ugly Warrior adds weight to the theory that he could still be ahead of the game from a rating of 71.

“His trial behind a very good dirt horse was sound and the tempo of Happy Valley races suits him,” added Size.

“I won’t ask him to do too much because of his age (three) but while he’s physically well and mentally sound I’ll ask him to keep racing.”

Warrior ready for Class 2 battle

Red Warrior is another progressive young Size galloper and the trainer is optimistic that the three-year-old is developing fast enough to offset an eight-point rise in the closing Tokyo Handicap (1650m).

The former British galloper had recent Valley scorer Let’s Take It Easy back in third when swooping to an emphatic course and distance success under Purton last month and Size is hoping for a similarly strong pace as Red Warrior moves up into Class 2 company.

“His last race was run to suit as there was plenty of speed on and he was able to capitalize,” he said.

“If things don’t go his way then he’s in trouble but I think he’ll have a good run again tomorrow night and I think he’ll go well. There’s always a big difference between the classes in our racing – so he’s got to improve – but he keeps winning and so you have to be optimistic about his chances.”