Zac Purton maintained his three-win buffer ahead of Joao Moreira at the top of the jockeys’ championship but may be left ruing four second-place finishes on a frustrating night for the Australian at Happy Valley.
Purton holds a crucial tiebreak of more seconds, so his lead is essentially four with three meetings remaining, but a big haul last night could have been decisive in the title chase.
“I came here thinking I had a pretty good book of rides and four seconds isn’t great, but one-all is still better than being beaten one-nil,” Purton said.
After winning the opener on Actuariat, Purton had to settle for second on four fancied chances and Moreira got one back when Zero Hedge led all the way in race six.
Zero Hedge was the second leg of a double for trainer John Size after Noble Delight (Karis Teetan) also went wire-to-wire to notch consecutive wins at the city course.
In the same race, jockey Ben So Tik-hung was spectacularly dislodged just after the post when Telecom Man broke down right on the line as he flashed home for fourth behind Noble Delight.
The green screens came out for Telecom Man and he was euthanised on course and a badly shaken up So was placed in an ambulance suffering from back pain.
So, who has only just returned after missing nearly 12 months after a shocking fall in June last year, was able to walk and is expected to fulfil his obligations at Sha Tin on Sunday but was taken to hospital for precautionary check-ups.
After a few injury-plagued campaigns Matthew Chadwick is riding winners again – he now has 18 for the term – and Francis Lui Kin-wai was happy to have the former star apprentice aboard Class Four winner Sparkling Sword.
More than half of Lui’s 43 winners this term have been ridden by locals.
“One thing is that you can count on the local riders to take the ride and stick with your horses. Matthew is riding well and has ridden a couple of winners for me lately,” Lui said.
Lui is in a conundrum about what to do with Sparkling Sword, an honest enough horse but limited in ability.
“He is going to be eight next season, he has had 60 starts and even though he does a great job for us, it takes a long time between wins and he has had a lot of racing,” he said.
Paul O’Sullivan is facing a similar dilemma with Class Five winner Actuariat, whose owners are considering retiring their six-year-old.
“We will back him up next week and that might be it,” O’Sullivan said. “He has been hard work, we have tried everything with him, we had him up to a mile at one point, but it looks like 1,000m at Happy Valley is his go.”
Derek Cruz not only gave his slim hopes of professional survival a boost when Good Companion scored but he helped jockey Matthew Poon Ming-fai keep the battle for the Tony Cruz Award interesting.
“Actually I’m not thinking about the award, I was just happy to win for Derek,” Poon said after giving Cruz his 12th winner for the term, leaving the trainer needing four wins to keep his licence.
Two races after Poon pulled within two wins of rival Derek Leung Ka-chun, the defending title-holder hit back with a grinding victory aboard Salto Olympico to maintain his own three win buffer in the battle for leading local.
Salto Olympico came to Hong Kong from Brazil with a Group One win on his resume but it took a long drop into Class Four and a relentless drive by Leung for the one-paced stayer to breakthrough.
Local riders won half of the races and trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak said Victor Wong Chun’s rapidly evaporating 10-pound claim made the difference as consistent course specialist Thunder Stomp won on a one-week back-up.
“There’s not much to say about the horse, he is just very consistent and runs the same race here,” Tsui said. “That’s why getting some more weight off his back was important. He pulled up well after that last run so we thought we would try.”
The biggest cheer of the night came from relieved trainer Caspar Fownes when Limitless (Douglas Whyte) finally showed some of his true ability with a Class Two win to close the night.
“He has plenty of ability, but he has been a nightmare, he just won’t drop his head,” Fownes said.