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.”