Horse Racing
Purton opts for Winner’s Way at Hong Kong season opener

By David Morgan
29/08/2018 14:42

Zac Purton will partner Winner’s Way in Sunday’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup.
Zac Purton will partner Winner’s Way in Sunday’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup.

Zac Purton will begin the defence of his champion jockey title with a full book of 10 rides at Hong Kong’s season opener at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 2 September, with Winner’s Way (130lb) his mount of choice in the afternoon’s feature, the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (1200m).

The Australian ace partnered the Tony Cruz-trained galloper to a late-season success at the course and distance in the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap. A recent barrier trial run behind Sunday’s rival Fabulous One (113lb) convinced Purton to side with Winner’s Way in a race that in the past decade has gone the way of champion sprinter Lucky Nine, the top-class Joy And Fun, and last season’s subsequent G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) hero Seasons Bloom.

“Winner’s Way has raced well fresh before and he beat quite a good group of horses the last time I won on him, that was such a good run. If he gets anywhere near that performance again he’ll be well-placed,” Purton said at Sha Tin this morning (Wednesday, 29 August), noting that the gelding might have been “a bit flat” when subsequently fifth over 1400m on his 12th and final start of last term.

The curtain-raiser’s traditional feature has at its head another horse familiar to the two-time Hong Kong champ, Southern Legend (133lb). Purton partnered Caspar Fownes’s six-year-old to a heady victory in Singapore’s SIN G1 Kranji Mile in May and was up top when the bay passed the post first in an all-weather barrier trial on 24 August.

Chad Schofield will take Southern Legend’s reins this weekend, though; Purton is content with Winner’s Way’s preparation and ability.

“Winner’s Way’s trial was pretty good, I thought he attacked the line well and I think he’s got as good a chance as anything in the race,” he said of the six-year-old, who will face six smart opponents.

“He would normally be disadvantaged at the weights but there are actually quite a few horses out of the handicap in this race, so that gives the horses at the top a bit of a better chance this year.”

Zac Purton guides Winner’s Way to victory in last season’s G3 Sha Tin Vase.

Winner’s Way has often raced prominently, making all for wins at 1650m and 1400m two season back, but Purton believes those tactics could well be a thing of the past, especially at the sprint distance. The chestnut ran on from deep in a field of eight when claiming his G3 win in May.

“Over 1200 metres I think those days of getting out in front are gone,” the rider said. “He just doesn’t seem to fly the gate like he used to. He seems to have lost a little bit of his early speed, which is not ideal, but Fabulous One looks like he’ll roll along so there should be good speed in the race to set it up for my horse coming from midfield or behind.”

But Purton also acknowledged an upside to that lost sharpness.

“It means he’s not racing as fiercely as he used to,” he said. “He would get right up on the bit, get his head up and want to rip along. He drops his head a bit better, which means he’s more manageable in the race, so that’s definitely a positive.”

The HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup is slated as Race 3 on Sunday’s 10-race card and also features the talented late closer Born In China (123lb), four-time course and distance winner Jumbo Luck (113lb), two-time track and trip scorer California Fortune (113lb), and Wishful Thinker (113lb), whose two wins from six starts at Sha Tin’s 1200m include a defeat of the highly-regarded Hot King Prawn, albeit with the benefit of a hefty weight concession from the latter.

The day’s first race, the Class 4 Harcourt Handicap (1000m), will start at 1pm, while the concluding Class 2 Albert Handicap (1400m) is due off at 5.45pm.