Zac Purton drives Winner’s Way to victory in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup.

Purton’s Way is a Winner in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup

By David Morgan, HKJC.



Hong Kong’s season-opening fixture drew a crowd of more than 74,000 this afternoon, Sunday, 2 September, 2018, and the eager mass at Sha Tin Racecourse raised a ripping roar for Zac Purton when the champion jockey moved his title defence off the mark with victory in the day’s Class 1 feature.

The spectator approval was no doubt inspired in some degree by his mount, Winner’s Way (130lb), being the 3.3 favourite for the seven-runner HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (1200m). But, while trainer Tony Cruz had produced the six-year-old fit to fire for his early-term assignment, Purton ensured an ‘A grade’ result.

“It was a perfect ride from Zac, he got the horse into the race at the right time,” Cruz said after the Australian had settled back and then sprinted in the straight.

Winner’s Way overhauled front-running stablemate California Fortune (110lb) mid-stretch and Purton ensured there was enough left to repel a late challenge from runner-up Born In China (123lb).

“It was a really strong field today but Winner’s Way is a horse that needs pace on and he got that,” Cruz noted. The winning time was inside standard at 1m 08.27s, with Winner’s Way clocking 22.67s for the final 400m – swifter than all of his rivals.

The handler will point his Group 3 scorer towards the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races on 9 December: “There’s no other choice than for us to go to the (Group 1) Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and we’ll just go to whatever 1200m and 1400m races we can between now and then.”

Purton, meanwhile, expressed the view that while the admirable Starcraft gelding – a six-time winner from 23 Hong Kong starts – has earned his shot at the top bracket, he will need to step up again.


Winner’s Way lands the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup at the season opener.

Winner’s Way lands the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup at the season opener.


“I think he’s probably just off the best horses here; he probably just needs to improve a little bit more if he’s going to be a competitor in December,” said the rider, who added a second score atop King Opie in race five. “Winner’s Way’s done a great job to get to where he’s got to and he carried a big weight today. It was a good win again, there’s no fluke to what he’s been doing – he’s very honest.

“He’s lost a bit of his gate speed as he’s got further into his career; they went along very fast and he was off the bit, but he wasn’t off the bit struggling, he was relaxed the whole way and that meant I was then able to get a beautiful run from him. He gave me a good kick and then he had to fight the last 150 metres. He likes to win, though, so that’s a great asset and it’s good to see him go and do that today.”

Born In China was a neck second under Douglas Whyte, while the Richard Gibson-trained Wishful Thinker (113lb) – lightly-raced and competing from 11lb out of the handicap – charged late to take third under Karis Teetan.

Last season’s SIN G1 Kranji Mile hero Southern Legend (133lb) finished a little under six lengths fifth for trainer Caspar Fownes.

“That’s about what I expected from him today,” Fownes said. “He had a lot of weight over a trip that was too short and he was first-up since May. He likes his racing though and he’s had a good blow so he’ll go to the 1400m (Celebration Cup) next and then step up to 1600m from there. I think you’ll see more third-up and then fourth-up he should be just about there before peaking in the Hong Kong Mile in December.”

Turnover for the 10-race card was HK$1.253 billion, the second-highest figure since 1996.

Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are very pleased with the start to the season; we had the second-highest attendance and the second-highest turnover in more than 20 years.

“The crowd created a great atmosphere throughout the afternoon, and it says a lot about the enthusiasm of Hong Kong’s racing fans that they came here in numbers despite the heavy rainstorm that hit Hong Kong this morning.

“We are optimistic with our target prediction of a 3% or 4% increase in turnover across the season, and it was pleasing to see commingling increase from HK$104 million on this day last year to HK$158 million for today’s meeting.”


Trainer Jimmy Ting and jockey Grant van Niekerk each celebrate a debut Hong Kong win in the opener.
Trainer Jimmy Ting and jockey Grant van Niekerk each celebrate a debut Hong Kong win in the opener.


New boys at the double

Jimmy Ting got the coveted call-up to the Hong Kong trainers’ rank as recently as June and the rookie handler hit the ground running thanks to a double on opening day.

With his old mentor and past champion trainer Brian Kan on hand, Ting’s first career runner, Triumphant Jewel, took the season’s first race under fresh South African import Grant Van Niekerk.

“It’s a good start; I’m very happy that he’s (Kan) come here today,” a delighted Ting, 45, said after smiling through a surge of photo requests.

“Three weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d run Triumphant Jewel,” he said of his breakthrough winner. “But when his trial was good I decided to run and I’m very happy that he was able to win for me.

“If he jumped out well and caught the pace, I thought he could win. He’ll run again in a few weeks and I hope he can win again but Class 3 will be difficult.”

For Van Niekerk, too, Triumphant Jewel’s victory meant a Hong Kong record of one from one heading into race two. The 27-year-old became the first rider since Teetan in 2013 to make a winning Hong Kong debut in the season’s first contest.

Van Niekerk bookended the card for a double of his own, charging late and fast to nick the last on the Tony Millard-trained World Record.

“I’m delighted, I’m very blessed to have been given the chance to be here so I’m making the most of the opportunities and I’ll do my best,” he said.

A little more than an hour and a half later, Ting nailed a first career double to see his tally stand, for a short while at least, at two from two. Richcity Fortune, a stable transfer from seven-time champion trainer John Moore, no less, landed the day’s fourth contest, a Class 5 over 1200m, under apprentice Victor Wong.

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley Racecourse with an eight-race card on Wednesday, 5 September when this season’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge will have lift-off.