Hong Kong Diary

This may well go down as the week when one of Hong Kong’s championship races took a decisive turn and another was thrown wide open. Zac Purton powered seven winners clear of Joao Moreira at the top of the jockeys’ table with a dramatic four-timer at Happy Valley, while Francis Lui saddled all four of the Aussie’s winners to move within two of Ricky Yiu atop the trainers’ table. Only six meetings remain before the season ends and the stakes are high as the Sky Sports racing cameras home in on a Saturday Sha Tin card featuring some familiar faces from Britain and Ireland.

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PURTON POWERS CLEAR WITH VALLEY FOUR TIMER

Zac Purton is taking nothing for granted despite being seven ahead of Joao Moreira with just six meeting left in the Hong Kong season.

“You’ve always got to be wary of the wounded” was his closing line after a dramatic Wednesday night at Happy Valley but there’s no doubt Purton has one hand on a fourth championship after a dramatic 100-minute spell in which everything went his way.

Moreira started the night with nine rides to Purton’s seven and reduced the deficit to three by winning race four on Daily Beauty but the Aussie wore him down late on the odds-on Sky Darci in race six and then made the most of two unexpected opportunities aboard Star Shine and Alpha Hedge when Vincent Ho was sidelined with chest pains.

VALLEY STATS A TELLING FACTOR

Purton rubbed salt in Moreira’s wounds when holding him by a short head as Victoriam and Winning Method flashed past the post in the nightcap and is now seven ahead with Moreira set to miss one of six remaining meetings due to suspension.

“There’s a long way to go,” said Purton. “Joao is such a great rider that you can never write him off and it’s only a matter of time before he comes out and has a big day.”

Moreira needs a big day at Sha Tin on Saturday to revive his title claims but a few key stats help illustrate why the scales have tipped in Purton’s favour. The big two have occupied the first two places in ten races in recent weeks and Purton has hit the line first in eight of them while shading all the last six photo finishes (of a neck or less) between the pair.

But perhaps the most telling trend of all relates to the way Purton and Moreira have performed at the city track this season. Purton is 58-36 ahead on that metric and the Valley stat could be the most important one of all by the time the Season Finale comes around on July 15th.

HIGH DRAW NOT IDEAL FOR PURTON’S PAST AND PRESENT PARTNERS

Purton switches from one Euro import to another in Saturday’s Grass Island Handicap at 9.35 but whether either of the pair is up to the job remains to be seen.

Former James Fanshawe winner Enfolding responded to a dynamic Purton ride to defy the dreaded stall 14 box over course and distance last month but an 8lb hike and stall 13 will make life tough this time.

Purton prefers top weight Kyrus Unicorn – who chased home Madhmoon in a Leopardstown Group 3 when known as Zuenoon for Dermot Weld – but stall 12 is 2-78 over 1650m on the All-Weather and the jury is out as to whether he will be sharp enough to shine on his dirt debut.

VAGNER DUE ANOTHER TOUCH OF LUCK

London Luckystar was a Newcastle winner for John Gosden when known as Frederickbarbarosa and the fact that he has Moreira’s assistance for the first time won’t be missed by the market. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him show improvement but Hong Kong’s ‘other Brazilian’ looks the man to focus on in this £150,000 handicap.

Vagner Borges is a four-time champion in his homeland and has made good progress in his second Hong Kong stint, riding 14 winners and forging a profitable relationship with John Moore’s Touch Of Luck.

Touch Of Luck
Touch Of Luck in action

Dirt clearly suits this smooth-travelling chestnut, as befits a son of Hard Spun. His last two performances have been the best of his career and the way he travelled until worn down by Enfolding on his latest start indicates that he’s still very fairly treated from a mark of 71.

FRANCIS AIMING TO PUT ON THE STYLE AGAIN

The fact that Francis Lui supplied all of Purton’s Wednesday winners crept under the radar slightly but the veteran homegrown handler is enjoying a vintage season – highlighted by Derby hero Golden Sixty – and now lies just two behind championship leader Ricky Yiu as both men chase their first title.

Every winner is valuable as the season approaches its final fortnight and Lui can expect a strong Saturday effort from the lightly-raced Tom's Style, who looks a prime contender for a winnable Cheung Chau Handicap at 7.30 having caught the eye travelling strongly on his last two starts and when passing the post first against some seasoned winners in a recent morning barrier trial.

Hong Kong Diary
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