Rider Joao Moreira sparked the jockeys’ championship battle to life with a quickfire early double at Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 27 June), but title leader Zac Purton’s victory on Doctor Geoff in the night’s feature ensured that he still holds a commanding lead in the title race with five meetings left to go in the season.
The Tony Cruz-trained Doctor Geoff produced the star performance of the night with his triumph in the Class 2 Manawatu Racing Club Challenge Trophy Handicap (1800m). The Irish galloper, a two-time winner at Naas for trainer Ger Lyons pre-import, had placed at four of his first seven Hong Kong starts but had not been able to break his local maiden.
That changed in impressive fashion tonight as Doctor Geoff raced clear for a three and a quarter length success under Purton. Another former Lyons trainee, the John Size-prepared Insayshable, filled the runner-up stall with Moreira aboard.
“It was a pretty shallow race in terms of depth, when you consider the form of the other horses,” Purton said. “Our main danger hasn’t raced for quite some time (and was) first-up over 1800m. My horse has been knocking on the door, so we just needed to get the right run in the race, which we did get. He won nicely.”
Doctor Geoff had finished in the placings behind the Caspar Fownes-trained Rise High at his last two starts, with Purton riding Rise High on both occasions.
“I think Rise High has probably got a little bit more quality than this horse,” Purton said. “He’s got more size and scope about him as well. This horse is going to do a good job though, he’s only small and he still does a few things wrong in his races – he’s on and off the bit, he wanders in and out, so he can still improve himself a little bit. He’s going to need to though if he’s going to take the next step.”
The trophy success took Purton to 127 wins for the season, giving the Australian rider a four-win championship lead entering July, while Doctor Geoff was the first leg of a Cruz double; the handler later added the Class 3 Grass Island Handicap (1200m) with another former Irish galloper in Double Valentine, with Vincent Ho in the plate.