Hong Kong Diary

Hong Kong’s midweek action switches to Sha Tin this Wednesday for an AW card featuring several open handicaps. Zac Purton will be aiming to take advantage of Joao Moreira’s absence due to suspension but the champion’s strike rate is much lower on dirt than turf and at least one of his younger rivals is worth keeping an eye on during a nine-race card covered live on Sky Sports Racing from 11.45.

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Title duel heading for a fifth set

Zac Purton summed things up by saying "if we were playing tennis it would be deuce," while Joao Moreira simply called it "a big dogfight."

Sunday at Sha Tin felt like a significant day in the race for the jockeys' championship but the scores remain dead level with the Aussie and the Brazilian tied on 123 after riding four winners apiece.

There were moments within the five-hour duel that could have gone either way. Purton's second winner Armor Star scraped home by a short head, while Thanks Forever's Sha Tin Vase win was gained with very little to spare as Moreira and Hot King Prawn refused to lie down.

Moreira was playing catchup the whole afternoon but saved the best for last, finding the rail from stall 12 aboard Defining Moment and lifting the Caspar Fownes gelding ahead in the very last stride in a race where the first four were covered by a neck.

A one-day ban means Moreira misses Wednesday night's AW meeting at Sha Tin and the Magic Man is well aware of the threat Purton poses with 14 fixtures left. "If you don't bring your very best every single day he will beat you," he told the South China Morning Post. "From there, it's simple. Raise your game."

Exultant digs deep to stake HOTY claim

Exultant didn't have to raise his game in ratings terms to win his second Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup but Tony Cruz's gelding had to dig deep into his reserves of courage and stamina as Chefano and Furore chased him hard up the home straight.

Cruz has dominated HK's final G1 of the season - including with high-class horses like California Memory and Pakistan Star - but had no hesitation in labelling Exultant as "the best stayer of them all" after lifting the trophy for the seventh time in eight years.

Purton added that "there's no doubt he's the best stayer I've ridden in Hong Kong" and made a cogent case for the six-year-old to be considered ahead of Derby winner Golden Sixty as the debate over HK's coveted Horse of the Year award hots up.

"Exultant can't really do any more than he's done," he said. "Everyone wants to talk about Golden Sixty but he didn't come out and do it against the older horses and I think it's important that is taken into consideration. That might be the telling factor."

Utopia has perfect conditions with Chau booked

The telling factor in Wednesday’s Flamingo Handicap at 3.15 could be Utopia Life’s fine early speed allied to Jerry Chau’s valuable 10lb claim.

HK’s newest apprentice is 0-17 since an opening day double but he looked very tidy when a close second aboard Enzemble on Sunday and has found a partner who looks tailor made for his hefty allowance.

Utopia Life is all speed and trounced Class 3 rivals from the front on a wet to slow track over this course and distance in April.

Two subsequent runs suggest that he remains very fairly treated and, with Chau booked and further rain to keep the dirt track slick, everything looks in place for him to set this bunch a tough target.

Din hoping new purchase can make a big noise

Owner Kerm Din paid £600,000 for the enigmatic Pakistan Star at the Hong Kong International Sale in 2016 and subsequently enjoyed a ride that yielded a host of dramatic wins, a few embarrassing refusals and around £4m in total prize money.

Pakistan Star is currently in Dubai in the hope of reviving his career but Din remains active on the HK scene and went to HK$6.5m (about £680,000) to secure another interesting unknown quantity at this year's Sale last Saturday.

The Kodiac gelding from the family of top HK sprinter Lucky Nine caught the eye when sold for 525,000gns at the October Yearling Sales. He did so again as the top lot of eleven three-year-olds sold in the first of two HKIS Sales due this summer and, like Pakistan Star, will be under the care of Tony Cruz for the next phase of his career.

Not quite Thanks and goodnight as Moore eyes another big prize

Cruz can look forward to inheriting a high-class proven quantity after it was revealed that Thanks Forever will join him when John Moore heads off to start training in partnership with brother Gary in Australia this summer.

The HK sprint division is in a state of flux, with former champ Mr Stunning retired, current champ Beat The Clock rising seven and not seen since February and rising star Aethero under a cloud after two consecutive flops.

Thanks Forever ran Beat The Clock to a head in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup in January and broke his Pattern-race duck at the seventh attempt in Sunday’s Sha Tin Vase, making the most of the 6lb he received from Hot King Prawn to prevail in a blanket finish.

 “With the sprinting ranks being on the light side, he’s definitely in a position to win a G1 next season,” said Moore. Shorter term, Moore has his eyes on another prize and has already asked Purton to climb back aboard Thanks Forever for the G3 Premier Cup over 1400m on June 21st.

Hong Kong Diary
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