Zac Purton’s Group 1 double aboard Beauty Generation and Exultant at the Hong Kong International Races will rank as one of his highlight days in the saddle but on Wednesday (12 December) night it’s back to the bread and butter business of a regular Happy Valley card.
The Champion Jockey’s brace on Sunday (9 December) took his tally at the year-end showcase to eight wins – equalling Gerald Mosse’s record haul – just six years after his first aboard Ambitious Dragon in the Hong Kong Mile.
“Obviously, to win one of those races is incredibly hard, so to be as successful as I’ve been on this day for a few years now is very satisfying and hopefully it continues,” he said.
Purton has seven rides on the downtown venue’s eight-race programme as he seeks to maintain his position at the top of this season’s leader board – and there is the notable matter of 900 Hong Kong wins, too, with the rider only eight shy of that landmark and closing fast.
The Australian’s solid book includes three last-start winners from the Caspar Fownes stable, Smart Baby, Fearless Fire and Sky Melody. Jockey and trainer have teamed for five wins this term at a strike rate a little over 15%, while the pair’s last 10 connections have yielded two wins and a further four top three finishes.
Purton was in the plate for Smart Baby’s breakthrough win over 1800m two runs back, handing over to Chad Schofield last time, and is back in the irons for the Class 4 Mesia Handicap (1800m). The five-year-old will break from “not a great draw” in 11.
“He’s racing well, it’s the best he’s ever gone and he’s attacking the line with a bit of purpose. He was given a great ride last time, saved all the ground, got all the breaks and got the job done. He just needs a nice run in the race,” he said.
Smart Baby finds himself on a hat-trick having taken 19 starts across 21 months to notch his first Hong Kong win in Class 5.
“He’s quite a big horse, he’s a stayer, he just needs things to go right for him. He’s just one of those horses that has taken a little bit of time to acclimatise,” Purton said.
Fearless Fire made the switch to Fownes from the Dennis Yip stable in the close-season and won at the fourth attempt for his new yard when successful over 1200m late last month. The four-year-old dipped down into Class 4 for that maiden local victory and overcame top-weight and gate 12 to deliver.
Purton has no concerns about the return to the next class up in the evening’s Nightjar Handicap (1200m), in which the British import will break from gate 10: “He’s a Class 3 horse so I don’t think that will be a problem for him.”
“Before his last run, Caspar said the horse was very well and he expected the horse to run well. His run the start before was very good – he closed it off really nicely – so I thought he could run well. We’ll look at this race and then work it out how we approach it.”
Sky Melody will take his place in the last race, the Class 3 Sea Eagle Handicap (1650m), having not raced since a course and distance win at Happy Valley’s first meeting this term, back on 5 September. The five-year-old was found to be lame in early October when scratched from an 1800m contest at the city track.
“He had that setback and that’s why he hasn’t raced,” Purton said. “Having had the time off, whether he’s at the same level fitness-wise, I’m not really sure, but if Caspar’s got him right then he’d be a chance.”