Jockey Zac Purton continued a stellar 24 hours across Asia at Sha Tin today (Sunday, 27 May), snaring the Group 3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) aboard the Tony Cruz-trained Winner’s Way to make it a four-timer from the first six races.
Purton picked up a pair of Singaporean Group 1 wins at Kranji on Saturday night (26 May), taking the Kranji Mile on Southern Legend and the Singapore Guineas on Mr Clint, and brought that rich vein of form from the Lion City back to the New Territories.
“I don’t mind a bit of silverware, it’s been a good 24 hours,” Purton said with a grin.
It was Winner’s Way’s first Group victory and his maiden win this season. Last term, the Starcraft five-year-old had recorded four victories to progress to the cusp of stakes company, but while he had often run well this season, he had been unable to break through in 10 starts.
Before a last-start disappointment, though, he had finished third at set weights in the Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m) behind Beat The Clock and Mr Stunning, form that translated well to today’s handicap. Accordingly, he was heavily-backed to take the Sha Tin Vase, firming from 4.1 to 2.4 to start a hot favourite.
“His run two starts back against our better sprinters here was a fantastic effort, while last start, things didn’t go right, he missed the start in a slowly-run race,” Purton said, while Cruz added: “He was too keen after missing the start, it was a forgivable effort.”
Settling beyond midfield on the rail, Purton had to urge Winner’s Way (123lb) along at times as Fabulous One (113lb), on the speed, upped the ante through the middle stages. Unleashing a potent turn-of-foot between runners, Winner’s Way grabbed Fabulous One in sight of the 100m before holding off the late burst of Born In China (119lb) down the outside to score by a length.
“Today, I thought the pace was quite nice through the middle stages,” Purton said.
“He was off the bit and chasing, so he wasn’t comfortable where he was, but he was able to pick up at the right time at the top of the straight, they opened up very nicely for me and he sprinted through quickly. When he got there, he switched off and idled, but he’s taken himself to a new level and he’s a very honest horse.”
Cruz, donning his hat as a former champion jockey, said Purton was the key factor in Winner’s Way breaking through in Group company.
“Zac rode a perfect race,” he said.
“He was patient with him and stayed behind, kept him relaxed and then they came with a big run. I’m very happy with the way he is riding, he’s riding like a champion jockey.”
The trainer said that Winner’s Way would likely progress to the Group 3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) on 24 June. In that same race last year, the chestnut was sent out 1.8 favourite but finished runner-up, three and a half lengths behind Thewizardofoz.
“To me, I think a mile is too far for him, so at the end of June there is a 1400 Group 3 and I think that will be the goal,” Cruz said.
“Next season, we’ll give him a go at some of our better sprints.”
Purton said he could see Winner’s Way being a factor in some of the early-season handicaps in October and November, but that races like the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) could be beyond him: “I think he could probably take another small step but he might just be below our better ones.”
Trainer Francis Lui, who had earlier reaped the benefits of Purton’s hot streak when Sunny Power won the Class 4 Mighty High Handicap (1600m), expressed satisfaction with the effort of Born In China under Douglas Whyte. The trainer’s other runner, Group 1 winner Lucky Bubbles (131lb), finished last of the eight runners, nine lengths from Winner’s Way, with Brett Prebble in the saddle.
Purton also won the Class 4 Packing Winner Handicap (1000m) on the Dennis Yip-trained Goko, while he handed trainer John Moore a monumental milestone when producing a perfectly-timed effort aboard Experto Crede to take the Class 4 Mr Medici Handicap (1400m).
Moore, who took over from his legendary father George as a Sha Tin trainer in 1985, became the first handler to send out 1600 Hong Kong winners with Experto Crede’s victory.
“It is very special, we’ve been around a while but to get the 1600 up considering the number of races in Hong Kong, it’s quite a feat,” he said.
“We’ve got a few more seasons to go so hopefully we can add to it before then. I want to thank all the owners for their support, from 1985 until now, it’s been quite a journey. Now, the 1600 mark is a target for all trainers.”