One year, 14 starts and a 16-point hike in the ratings since his last win, Archippus (131lb) gained just reward for admirable consistency in the finale at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (20 December).
“He’s been very honest for quite a while now without winning, it’s a long time since the last one so it’s good to see him do that tonight,” said Zac Purton after the seven-year-old won the Class 2 Mercury Handicap (1200m) by three quarters of a length.
The former champion jockey enjoyed a smooth run on the Paul O’Sullivan-trained gelding – second, fourth, second and third in four prior races this term. Purton settled his game mount handily in midfield as Fabulous One (132lb) and Sea Jade (124lb) forced the pace, stalked by the 2.4 favourite, Fantastic Eight (113lb).
“He had the right gate (seven) and the right run and it all fell into place,” Purton said of the 6.9 chance. “He needed them to set things up with that good pace, off the mark he’s on. He’s gone up plenty of points since his last win.”
As the front rank faded off the final turn, with Fantastic Eight pushed wide on the track, Archippus slipped to the lead and the Hong Kong International Sale graduate rolled on to a ninth win at start 45.
Born In China (131lb) rattled home through a closing 400m split of 22.16s to claim second, with Mr Genuine (114lb) third. The winning time was a slick 1m 08.96s.
“These last couple of seasons he’s for sure been one of the most consistent horses in Hong Kong. Paul’s done a great job with him,” Purton added.
That victory was the rider’s second of the night and took him to 40 for the term, six behind championship leader Joao Moreira, absent due to a careless riding suspension. Purton earlier enjoyed an armchair ride on the night’s hotpot, Cheerfuljet, a 1.9 winner for trainer Caspar Fownes in section one of the Class 4 Jupiter Handicap (1200m).
Archippus sealed a double for his handler, too. O’Sullivan’s Rule Thee (116lb) won the night’s stamina test earlier on the eight-race card, the Class 3 Mars Handicap over 2200m. The five-year-old had failed by a nose at the course and distance at the end of November but was ahead of the rest this time in a four-way rush at the wire.
“It was a very, very good ride,” said O’Sullivan after jockey Chad Schofield had driven the Tavistock gelding wide down the home stretch for a first Hong Kong win at start 10.
“Chad went forward at the start and when he realised he couldn’t get across he’s come back and fortunately there was a big hole waiting for him there. The race really did pan out to suit the horse.
“He’s been racing pretty well without being able to get the thick end of it. It was a nice effort by him tonight – he certainly does relish the 2200 metres.”
Super Chic (131lb) set the tempo under Matthew Chadwick but was collared at the top of the straight and boxed on to a three-quarter-length fourth as Rickfield (131lb) and Ensuring (129lb) battled for the minors, a neck and a short-head behind the 6.4 winner.
“Rule Thee’s probably only going to be competitive at 2000 metres and up, so we’ll have to see what’s coming up, but he’s won his race and there’ll be a few options between now and the end of the season,” O’Sullivan said.
Olivier Doleuze snared a double to take his season’s tally to four. The Frenchman won the 1000m Class 5 opener with an all-the-way win on the Richard Gibson-trained Winfull Patrol, the 4.1 favourite. He then swept late to take race seven, the Class 3 Venus Handicap (1200m), atop the John Size-trained Arm Runda (11/1).
Size was also on the mark earlier when 16/1 chance Har Har Heart landed the evening’s third contest, section one of the Class 4 Saturn Handicap (1650m), under Chadwick.
Gibson was another trainer with a brace on the night. After Winfull Patrol’s first win since January, 2014, the handler saddled Right Honourable to a first Hong Kong score at start 11. Derek Leung executed a well-timed run on the latter, a 33/1 shot, to take section two of the Saturn Handicap.
Neil Callan survived a stewards’ inquiry to win race two, the second section of the Jupiter Handicap, on 10/1 shot Spring Win (122lb). The Irishman drove the Ricky Yiu-trained five-year-old to a battling short-head triumph over the Karis Teetan-ridden Peace On Earth (115lb). The two protagonists bumped close home.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin Racecourse on Saturday, 23 December.