Zac Purton and Joao Moreira continued their back-and-forth battle for the Hong Kong champion jockey title at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 13 May with the Australian outpointing the Brazilian two to one.
Purton arrived at the city-side track one win ahead of his rival but with six mounts to Moreira’s eight; his brace ensured he heads to Sha Tin on Sunday with a lead of 116 to 114 over his fellow three-time champ.
After Purton hit the board on Compassion Spirit, Moreira struck back aboard Smart Leader, but the former responded immediately with a comfortable success on Victoriam.
Moreira partnered Victoriam four times earlier this term, bagging a front-running win two starts back, but Purton held the reins for the first time tonight and made it count in section one of the Class 3 Cheung Lin Shan Handicap (1200m).
Francis Lui’s four-year-old settled just behind the pace, peeled out and quickened emphatically off the final turn for an easing-down length and three quarters score that sets him up for a first tilt at Class 2 the next time he steps out.
“I think he has enough about him for Class 2,” Purton said of the top-weight. “He carried a heavy weight (133lb) tonight and he’s had to come from a bit of an awkward gate (seven) but he’s shown there that he’s a little bit more versatile than having to be up there breaking the wind. He’s learning so I think there’s more there.”
Compassion Spirit made light of an eight-point rise in the ratings from a last-start win, a 132lb burden and a wide draw in gate 10 to kick away in the straight and roll past the post two lengths ahead of the field.
The impressive manner in which the Manfred Man-trained three-year-old swept aside his rivals in the Class 4 Mount Kellett Handicap (1200m) suggested Class 3 next time should be well within his compass.
“I wasn’t surprised by that, he showed last time that he was improving,” Purton said of the 3.1 favourite. “It was just a matter of getting a nice run from the gate, which wasn’t easy early; it looked like we were in trouble but fortunately the race opened up for us a little bit, he got a nice run and he did the job well.”
Smart Leader gave Moreira his win in race six, section two of the Class 3 Cheung Lin Shan Handicap (1200m). The Tony Cruz-trained five-year-old tracked the lead and when his rider’s vigorous urging demanded a tough response, his constitution ensured a gutsy three-quarter length success.
“He was ready, he felt ready on the way to the gate,” the Brazilian said. “He had a good draw (two), circumstances meant that we were able to make good use of it and he responded well when I needed him to.”
Happy alliance for Moore and Borges
John Moore and Vagner Borges are the unlikely dynamite partnership in Hong Kong these days. The trainer and jockey ended the night with four wins from 16 pairings after the “lazy” Beauty Happy took the Class 3 Ma Kong Shan Handicap (1800m).
The +2800 shot maintained the double-digit trend of the Moore-Borges combination’s previous successes, achieved at odds of +2800, +1000 and +1100, and all within the last three weeks.
“The jockey’s doing the job and I’m his instructor, in that I’m just trying to help him with regard to race tactics and what’s expected – not just me but other trainers too – trying to give him some insight. He’s very open to criticism and where he can improve,” Moore said of the rider, a four-time champion in Brazil.
Borges went winless through a short debut contract in Hong King last July but Beauty Happy’s victory took his tally to eight wins since his return in mid-March.
“If we can just reboot the mindset a bit, I think he can do even better. He has the components to make it in Hong Kong, he just needs to tweak a few things,” Moore continued.
“I think he’s a welcome addition but he just needed someone to pick him up and give him some reasonable rides, where he can show what he was doing in Brazil; he can ride light and that’s a big plus so I hope when he starts to ride winners the local trainers will give him better rides.”
And the Australian handler, now in the final weeks of his record-breaking Hong Kong career, believes a bit of language tuition will help Borges lift his game further.
“The language will take time – his interpreter rides for Frankie Lor and he interprets really well – but it would be good if he comes back next season and learns a bit of English. He is picking it up but it’s very basic stuff and any improvement will only help him.”
Hamelin hammers a double
Antoine Hamelin is another rider making hay after his recent arrival. The Frenchman landed a double with Victorious Leader and Surrealism.
Hamelin hit double figures with his 10th win from as many race meetings and he achieved it in what is becoming a familiar style – a power-packed thrust, wide and late, to mug the leader by a short-head.
This time it was Victorious Leader, returned at +1500, who benefitted to give trainer Dennis Yip his 20th win of the campaign in section two of the Class 5 Siu Ma Shan Handicap (1200m).
The French Derby-winning jockey closed the nine-race card with a half-length triumph on the David Ferraris-trained Surrealism in the Class 3 D’Aguilar Handicap (1650m).
“I’m very happy – if I come back next season and can win like this I will be very happy. I try to do the best every time and I have good support from trainers and owners,” he said.
“It’s very different here, there’s a lot of respect in the jockeys’ room here and you see that respect in the races. It’s competitive but there is respect in a race and that is important because it makes it easier to ride a race: we have only 20 jockeys and while it’s hard because the competition level is so high, it’s easy because you know everyone out there knows their job. When you ride with the best, you learn more.”
Blake Shinn swept rail-side for a deserved success aboard the Douglas Whyte-trained three-year-old Daily Delight in the Class 4 Mount Collinson Handicap (1000m). The short-head score, Shinn’s 11th this season, was just reward after the bob went against him not once but twice in the first half of the card, with those narrow reversals taking his tally of second placings to 41 for the term.
Matthew Poon has notched one win for the Michael Chang stable in each of the past three seasons and he maintained that record when driving the +2000 shot Indigenous Star through a strong, wide run to nick the Class 4 Pottinger Peak Handicap (1650m), the rider’s first score for the yard this term at the 16th attempt. The six-year-old gelding was on the mark at his fourth start for Chang, having transferred from the Ricky Yiu stable.
Victor Wong kept his head aboard the Tony Millard-trained Yee Cheong Lucky to switch out on the home turn, duck to the rail midway down the run, and then weave out and dash late to snatch the opening section one of the Class 5 Siu Ma Shan Handicap (1200m) by a short-head in a three-way call. The winner, a Hong Kong International Sale graduate, returned a +1700 chance for his first win at the 17th try.