Horse Racing
Tony Cruz fuels BMW Hong Kong Derby hopes with California Spangle’s Classic Cup triumph

By Leo Schlink
27/02/2022 19:50

Zac Purton pilots California Spangle to victory.
Zac Purton pilots California Spangle to victory.

California Spangle has earned a tilt at the HK$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) next month after repelling a crack field in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) to defy questions over his stamina with a superb performance at Sha Tin on Sunday (27 February).

Leading virtually all the way under a masterful front-running ride from Zac Purton, the son of champion sprinter Starspangledbanner plumbed the depths of his reserves to win the second leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, prevailing from Turin Redsun and Money Catcher, while previously unbeaten Romantic Warrior finished fourth after covering ground from barrier 13.

With four Derby crowns as a jockey and two more as a trainer, Cruz attributed California Spangle’s sixth win from eight starts – spread from 1000m to 1800m – to the gelding’s exceptional quality, the staying influence of High Chaparral through the bay’s dam Pearlitas Passion and Purton’s supremely calculated ride.

“Our plans all turned out good so next step, we wait for the Derby,” said Cruz, who last savoured Derby success with Helene Mascot in 2008. We always had confidence this horse would run the distance because his dam is by High Chaparral, a stayer who won the Irish Derby. I’m sure he’s got that sort of pedigree in him and I believe he will get the distance (2000m).

“I believe he will wait in front and I believe he will run out the distance. The plan from day one was that this horse – even though he’s a real sprinter – was to wait for the straight, wait for the opposition to come and then you make a move. He was under control for the whole race.”

Asked if California Spangle was capable of Derby success at Sha Tin on 20 March, Cruz smiled and said: “It’s possible.”

A Zac Purton masterclass enables California Spangle to prevail.

Purton revelled in his first Classic Cup success, eventually finishing the meeting with a three-win buffer over Joao Moreira.

“It’s nice to get it (Classic Cup) on the board and on such a special horse as well. From the first time I sat on him, I could feel how much quality he had and this might not be his proper distance but because he’s so good – against his own age group – he’s been able to do it today,” Purton said.

“It worked out perfectly for us, we got a really good jump and although there were a couple of horses who were pushing him a little bit through the first quarter of the race, he wasn’t trying to over-do it and he got into a lovely rhythm and then once the field settled down, he switched off really nicely.

“Of course, I was worried the last 200m. He was out on his feet and it was a good effort.”
Purton dictated with metronomic precision, taking the field from the 800m to the 400m in 23.94s before gliding home in 23.66s – the fifth-fastest time of the 14 runners over the final 400m.

Addressing California Spangle’s capacity to run out 2000m, Purton said: “It’s another question mark again. The last 200m, he was really feeling it today, so 2000m looks as though it’s really going to stretch him so it’s going to be another tough contest for him, but hopefully he gets there in good form and tries his best.”

Purton sealed a double when Frankie Lor’s Sauvestre swept to victory in the Class 3 Mei Lam Handicap (1400m) to lead Moreira 77-74 in the championship.

Tony Cruz hopes Champion Dragon will earn a Derby start.
Tony Cruz hopes Champion Dragon will earn a Derby start.

Cruz also harbours growing Derby hopes Champion Dragon’s win under Karis Teetan in the Class 3 Mei Tin Handicap (1800m) will lead to a Derby start.

“We knew we probably wouldn’t get a start in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, so we decided to run in this race because we thought we could win it,” Cruz said. “We don’t know what his rating will be after this race. He was 72 coming into today’s race, but if he gets enough points, he might get in the Derby – that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Formerly known as The Rosstafarian when trained by Hugo Palmer in Great Britain, where he won over 1600m at Salisbury, Champion Dragon is also by Starspangledbanner.

Richard Gibson hailed Cordyceps Six as a future star after the three-year-old made the rise to Class 2 with authority with success in the Lek Yuen Handicap (1200m) under a sublime Blake Shinn ride to claim a HK$1 million High Achievement Bonus.

“You have got to remember he’s three-years-old – I think this is one of the best three-year-olds we’ve seen in several years. It’s very rare to win five races already as a three-year-old.

“It was first time at 1200m. I thought he showed a lot of class and Blake gave him a beautiful ride. I think he showed today that he’s got a very good future in front of him,” Gibson said.

Cordyceps Six bolts in under Blake Shinn.

Danny Shum has long subscribed to the theory that a “trial is a trial” but when Lightning Bolt downed dirt specialist Hongkong Great in a recent hit-out on the all-weather surface, the trainer approached the Class 3 Lung Hang Handicap (1200m, dirt) with confidence.

“He’s a nice, big strong horse,” Shum said after the four-year-old cruised to victory on Sunday. “I trialled him on the dirt and he beat Hongkong Great, but a trial is different to a race. But he came out and won well, so I’ll keep him on the dirt.”

Ruan Maia and Tony Millard extended their burgeoning partnership when Fortune Patrol’s victory in the Class 5 Wo Che Handicap (2000m) marked the pair’s fifth win together from only 16 races.

“This old horse is racing well,” Millard said, referring to the eight-year-old’s second win in a row. “And Ruan is riding well for me.”

Maia capped a productive afternoon when Francis Lui’s Golden Empire nosed out Oriental Smoke to clinch the Class 4 Sun Chui Handicap (1400m), giving the Brazilian his 17th success of the campaign and Lui a 35th.

Michael Chang’s patience with Golden Mission was rewarded when the six-year-old gelding broke through at his 32nd start, saluting for Matthew Chadwick in the Class 5 Sun Tin Wai Handicap (1200m, dirt).

Eight Trigrams continued his admirable consistency with success for David Hall and Jerry Chau in the Class 4 Shui Chuen O Handicap (1200m, dirt), posting his fifth victory in 36 starts and second win in 10 starts this season – a campaign which features six top-four results.

Dennis Yip and Derek Leung combined with Trust Me to win the Class 4 Shek Mun Handicap (1200m).

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (2 March).