Horse Racing
Champion’s Way on Classic trail after Lion Rock Trophy win

By David Morgan
02/06/2019 19:40

Champion’s Way earns a first Group race win under Joao Moreira
Champion’s Way earns a first Group race win under Joao Moreira

Champion’s Way confirmed his early position as the front-runner on the road to next season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series with a classy win in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin this afternoon, Sunday, 2 June.

“The target next season is the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, he won’t race again this season,” the Australian-bred three-year-old’s owner Dr. Arthur Leung said.

Trainer John Size observed: “Now he’s rated 100-and-something, and that’s a pretty good mark for a four-year-old to start the new season on – it’s about as good as it gets.”

It is a rare thing for a three-year-old to win a Group race in Hong Kong. Three years ago, Rapper Dragon won the inaugural edition of this race to buck that status quo and went on to become the first horse to sweep the Classic Series, winning the Hong Kong Classic Mile, Hong Kong Classic Cup and the BMW Hong Kong Derby the following season.

Champion’s Way (118lb), in securing his sixth win at his seventh career start, appears well-placed to kick on into a successful four-year-old campaign. But while today’s victory enhanced the Australian-bred’s reputation, it also showed that there is a roughness to his edges.

“I thought he should have won more easily than he did,” jockey Joao Moreira said of the 1.8 favourite. “When I asked him to quicken, he picked up for me and felt like he was going to go on and win well. But he just snaked around again, he shifted and that cost him something.

“He still needs to learn but I’m not worried for the future. He’s a young horse and he is still learning so you have to be happy with what he has done so far and it looks like he will only get better next season.”

Champion’s Way could be a Derby candidate next term

Moreira settled the Hinchinbrook gelding one off the fence, mid-pack in the nine-runner field, as the talented four-year-old Ka Ying Star (122lb) led. When the Brazilian shifted out on the final turn, his mount was brimming with power and quickened like victory was assured.

However, after edging the lead with 200m to race, the bay veered out. He hung again approaching the winning line but was a half-length to the good over Ka Ying Star when it mattered.

“If he’s got something to run at and has horses around him, he’s probably better schooled,” Size said. “If he has a couple of months off and comes out for his eighth start he’s probably going to do everything right. He hasn’t had any gear on him, he’s just done everything on his own; we haven’t tried to help him much because he keeps winning.

“I think he did a respectable job,” the champion trainer continued. “They went out a little bit hard early and when they slowed up he had to make that adaption, which is not easy for a young horse. To win the race he had to get going – he probably had to be the first horse to move so it was a bit of a test of his racing aptitude, which obviously he hasn’t developed yet, and he still got away with the win. It was full of merit actually, I’m pretty happy with that.”

Size’s Insayshable (123lb) took third, a further neck away, with Hong Kong Classic Cup hero Mission Tycoon (119lb) in fourth.

Moreira enjoyed another fine day in the saddle. The three-time champion collected a treble, starting with the Danny Shum-trained Gorgeous Again in the opening Class 5 HKU Jockey Club Student Villages Handicap (2000m).

He added another win in race four, the HKU Faculties of Business & Eonomics and Science Handicap (1200m), when the Size-trained Red Desert dug in for a head success.

Purton fells records

Zac Purton hits a new prize money record aboard Classic Unicorn.
Zac Purton hits a new prize money record aboard Classic Unicorn.

One week on from a brilliant six-timer, Zac Purton was at it again, matching that haul to maintain his searing form. The champion jockey ended the day on 140 wins for the season, four more than the personal best tally he set last year on the way to his second premiership – his win strike rate for the term is running at 23.9%.

Purton is five short of his 1000th Hong Kong win.

The Australian ace got off the mark for the day in race two when the well-regarded debutant Classic Unicorn scooted away with the Class 4 HKU Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences Handicap (1000m) for trainer Chris So.

That sealed the all-time record for the most prize money won by a jockey in a Hong Kong season, taking his total at that juncture to HK$207, 714, 765, fully HK$465,037 clear of Joao Moreira’s old mark, set in the 2016/17 season. He ended the day with HK$211,793,265 banked.

Purton followed up in the next, the Class 4 HKU Foundation and HKU Faculty of Medicine Handicap (1400m), aboard the John Moore-trained Buddies. Jockey and trainer teamed up again in race six when Magic Success, having his second start since a transfer from the David Hall stable, surged away with the Class 4 HKU Faculties of Dentistry and Education Handicap (1200m).

Band Of Brothers wins thanks to an indefatigable Purton drive
Band Of Brothers wins thanks to an indefatigable Purton drive

Purton was at his galvanising best on Band Of Brothers in the Class 3 Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup Handicap (1600m).

The four-year-old kicked for home from his stalking box seat berth and soon had the lead, only to be headed in the run as Umberto Rispoli drove Packing Warrior to the fore. Purton was not to be outdone, though. The champ switched his whip, asked for more and the 1.9 favourite obliged, fighting back to earn a neck success.

Purton had to work hard to get all that he needed from 1.6 favourite Little Wise Man in the Class 4 HKU Faculties of Architecture and Engineering Handicap (1400m). Frankie Lor’s charge saluted at start five, holding Sonic Fighter by a short-head.

He wrapped up proceedings with the Dennis Yip-trained Racing Fighter’s win in the finale, the Class 2 HKU Jockey Club Tower Handicap (1200m).

Trainer Michael Chang needs one more win to reach the benchmark 16 that would avoid his first strike in the ‘three and you’re out system’. He nailed his 15th of the campaign with former California galloper Marqula, who charged late under Neil Callan to win the Class 4 University Hall Handicap (1400m) at odds of 62/1.

Happy Fun topped that under Grant van Niekerk, winning the Class 3 HKU Space Handicap (1400m) at odds of 65/1 to give the Shum stable a double.

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 5 June.