ALL TO PLAY FOR ON SEASON FINALE DAY
The Hong Kong racing season draws to a close at Sha Tin on Sunday with an 11-race card and a host of memories to look back on.
More than anything, this was the year when Beauty Generation’s flawless eight-race season established him as a world star. It was also the year when his rider Zac Purton took his game to an even higher level with help from new stars such as Exultant.
Silvestre de Sousa made a major impression during his four-month spell in midseason, while Karis Teetan and UK-bound Vincent Ho enjoyed breakthrough seasons to finish third and fourth in the jockeys’ table behind Purton and Joao Moreira.
Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to Hong Kong punters and the prospect of seven weeks without racing will produce a major spike in betting turnover this weekend.
Purton will be center stage as usual as he chases his latest record, but two veteran trainers also have a great deal to fight for in what promises to be a thrilling Season Finale.
PURTON SEARCHING FOR A MIRACLE
With four more winners needed from ten rides, Purton will need to deliver what he terms “a miracle” to equal Joao Moreira’s single season record of 170 winners.
However, the stats he has compiled in winning a third championship are quite something. His 166 winners (worth a cool £23m in prize money) have come at a strike rate of 25 per cent including a double completed in swashbuckling fashion aboard High Rev at Happy Valley on Wednesday.
Wow! That was emphatic... @zpurton wants that record. #HKracing #HappyWednesday pic.twitter.com/4Ir7kfunAg
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) 10 July 2019
That figure includes seven of Hong Kong’s twelve Group 1 prizes and you have to look back to Happy Valley on April 17th – a remarkable 23 racedays – for the last time he drew a blank.
March 2nd was the last time Purton went winless at a Sha Tin fixture and the fact that he has been able to amass such numbers in a handicap culture while riding at a minimum weight of 8st 11lb makes his record all the more remarkable.
The annual jockey dash to the airport after the final race of the season is always run at a fierce gallop but Purton will be back in Hong Kong and back on zero in early September for a new challenge and what promises to be a compelling title duel with Moreira.
KING SET TO GO BALLISTIC
Hello Beauty is lightly raced in Hong Kong and has earned top-weight in this Class 3 dash with two solid runs in similar company, while Aerohappiness is a big, smooth-travelling holdup horse who doesn’t always produce a great deal once he comes off the bridle.
Both should go well but the fact that they are ridden by Hong Kong’s big two could create a little value in Ballistic King, who has caught the eye more than once including when chasing home the hugely exciting Aethero over this course and distance two weeks ago.
He could be anything. Aethero cruises to victory for @zpurton and John Moore! 💥 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/7cJYSRzQeg
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) 1 July 2019
Jimmy Ting’s gelding was playing second fiddle from a long way out that day but he finished ahead of Aerohappiness and his performance can be upgraded on the basis that he chased the pace from start to finish in a very strongly-run race.
Chad Schofield will be hungry to sign off with a winner – not least because he gets married to his English fiancée Hannah Butler in Thailand shortly - and the handicapper has certainly given Ballistic King every chance in raising him just 1lb for a career-best effort.
STAR READY TO SHINE AGAIN
Former French galloper Citron Spirit looks vulnerable to improvers from a mark of 114 but always gives his best, while Doctor Geoff was useful for Ger Lyons in 2017 and is on top of his game after a decisive Happy Valley success.
It's rare for a three-year-old to win a Group race in Hong Kong... Champion's Way shows his Derby credentials in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy. 🏆 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/xh3L7D6N7q
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) 2 June 2019
However, Ka Ying Star and Time To Celebrate could be the pair to focus on. Ka Ying Star thrived for Andrew Balding last summer and has made a fine start to his HK career, running out an impressive all-the-way winner here two starts ago before chasing home the ultra-progressive Champion’s Way last time.
He still looks very fairly treated from a 2lb higher mark as Vincent Ho bids to mark his breakthrough season with another notable success, while Time To Celebrate is bang in form after a career-best over 1400m and has to be high on any short list with Moreira in the irons.