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Purton out to make home advantage count on Exultant

Zac Purton is confident Exultant can make the most of having home advantage and get the better of Mogul in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.

The Tony Cruz-trained six-year-old will bid to reclaim the mile-and-a-half prize he landed in 2018, after suffering a surprise odds-on defeat when finishing third in the race 12 months ago.

While respecting the challenge of Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul – the Grand Prix de Paris winner – Purton believes he will have his work cut out against the locals.

Zac Purton feels Mogul will need to be at his best to beat Exultant in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin (Dan Abraham/PA)
Zac Purton feels Mogul will need to be at his best to beat Exultant in the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin (Dan Abraham/PA)

“Mogul is obviously a quality horse and is only young and seems to be improving all the time. He won the Grand Prix de Paris well in France and he ran well at the Breeders’ Cup last time,” said Purton.

“He will be hard to beat, like anything Aidan O’Brien sends over. I’d be thinking though that home ground advantage would play into our hands and I just hope that works in my favour.

“We are training on the track regularly and we don’t have to travel anywhere, which is always a big help. That said, it will still be a tough race.”

Exultant has finished second in both his starts this season, however, the reigning Hong Kong champion jockey expects the former Mick Halford-trained gelding to show his true colours back up in trip.

Purton said: “He is back up to his peak distance in the Vase. It is only a small field with not a lot of pace in the race, but hopefully I can find a nice spot for him and get him in a good rhythm.

“He started his season over 1,800 metres (nine furlongs) and he was giving weight away to the rest of the field. They went a strong gallop and he felt the weight late on.

“He was back up to 2,000 metres (10 furlongs) last time, he did a bit of work through the race and again it was run at a strong gallop which tested his fitness. He has had those two runs and he should be ready for this race.”

Beauty Generation will bid to secure a third victory in the Longines Hong Kong Mile on Sunday (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Beauty Generation will bid to secure a third victory in the Longines Hong Kong Mile on Sunday (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Beauty Generation may no longer be the force of old, but Purton retains plenty of faith in the David Hayes-trained eight-year-old, who will be bidding to claim a third success in the Longines Hong Kong Mile

He said: “He is starting to get a bit long in the tooth and his form is not quite as good as last season, but I’ve not given up on him though, and we have a good gate on Sunday (stall three).

“He has a couple of runs in the locker to get that residual fitness, but his best runs have been when he is fresh over the last 18 months, so he has been given the chance to show his best in this.

“It would be a fairy tale if he could come back and win the race again. If he runs like he did first time out, he will give himself a chance.”

With Inferno a late absentee in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, Purton will now partner the Jimmy Ting-trained Amazing Star in the six-furlong Group One.

He said: “He has been impressive around Happy Valley and he ran OK at Sha Tin last time.

“He is not a young horse and he is only starting to emerge at six, but has drawn a good gate, so we will see how we go.”

Zac Purton lifts the Longines International Jockeys' Championship for the second time at Happy Valley
Zac Purton lifts the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship for the second time at Happy Valley (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

The Royal Ascot-winning rider will head into the weekend full of confidence after landing his second Longines International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday.

Purton, who previously claimed the prize in 2017, said: “I drew some nice gates for a change which was good and although I had no stand-out rides, that gave them every chance to run as well as they could to pick up a few points and that is exactly what happened.

“It was a close end to it, as I dead-heated for third in the final race and that was enough to give me the two extra points to beat Joao (Moreira). I really needed that photo to go my way and luckily it did.”

Hollie Doyle impressed Zac Purton on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)
Hollie Doyle impressed Zac Purton on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

Hollie Doyle has won plenty of admirers for her achievements in the saddle in Britain this season, and Purton was impressed with what he saw from her on her Hong Kong debut at Happy Valley.

The 24-year-old, who finished joint-third behind Purton with Alexis Badel, became the first female rider to win a leg at the meeting when steering Harmony N Blessed to victory in the finale.

He said: “I thought Hollie did really well, she picked up how to ride the track quickly.

“For someone coming to Happy Valley and being thrown into the fire like that, I was impressed with the way she handled the track and her results showed that.”

Hollie Doyle takes joint-third in Hong Kong jockeys’ challenge

Hollie Doyle broke yet more new ground in a stellar year when she won the fourth and final leg of the Longines International Jockeys Championship in Hong Kong.

That was enough for Doyle to share joint-third spot with Alexis Badel behind the Hong Kong-based winner Zac Purton and runner-up Joao Moreira.

Doyle – only the third woman to contest the championship after Emma-Jayne Wilson (2007) and Chantal Sutherland (2009) – struck on the strongly-fancied Harmony N Blessed for David Hayes in a six-furlong handicap at Happy Valley to cap an amazing 2020.

The year has brought her a first Royal Ascot winner, a Champions Day double that saw a first Group One success, a record five winners at Windsor, breaking her own female jockeys’ record of winners in a year, being named Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year and being shortlisted for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Out of luck on her three previous mounts in the competition, and one earlier on the undercard, the 24-year-old came good on Harmony N Blessed to become the first British female jockey to have a winner in Hong Kong.

Well-positioned from the stalls, Doyle waited until the top of the straight to ask Harmony N Blessed for a winning effort. The gelding responded and managed to hold the challenge of Ryan Moore on Grateful Heart.

Doyle said: “It’s absolutely unbelievable. I knew I had a good chance on this horse, but you need a lot of things to go right.

“He jumped well, I didn’t have to ask much of him early on and he settled really nicely on the girths of the leader really nicely. The further I was going, the better.”

Doyle’s partner Tom Marquand picked up his only points in the same race by dead-heating for third place on Wind N Grass.

Doyle added: “It’s a huge privilege for Tom and I to be asked after a great season and it’s icing on the cake!”

Tied with Moreira on 18 points heading into the deciding race of the contest, Purton collected an invaluable two after Flying Bonus shared third with with Wind N Grass.

Moreira, who needed to finish ahead of Purton in the last to add another accolade to his bulging collection, crossed the line in sixth place on Cue The Music, failing to improve his score.

Purton said: “In a competition like this when there’s so much on the line, it certainly feels nice to have won it again, it’s another moment that I’ll cherish.

“I didn’t start off too well but we built into it after that. Like I’ve been saying for quite some time now, barriers win races and unfortunately for me it seems have been going on for months.

“I’ve been drawing such bad barriers, every meeting, it’s making so difficult to be competitive.

“Then I come here tonight and, as I said, they weren’t the best rides in the race but the barriers gave them the chance to be competitive. I just needed a bit of luck and things went my way.”

Monday Musings: The End is Nigh?

At last some movement, writes Tony Stafford. The five-week-long stretch of mockingly-sunny days with unblemished blue skies is about to break in the South of England according to a weather forecast I took scant notice of on Saturday evening. Horse racing is about to start in Germany, on May 4th, and in France a week later.

Hints and allegations, to quote Paul Simon, swirl around the possible resumption in the UK, with mid-May being hinted and Nick Rust reportedly the target of allegations from some senior trainers according to yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. Rust, whose six-year stint as chief executive of the BHA will end at the conclusion of a year’s notice on Dec 31, according to the paper has been urged to step aside immediately by senior trainers including Ralph Beckett and Mark Johnston.

That pair is reputedly among a group that has canvassed Annamarie Phelps, chair of the BHA, to remove Rust amid disquiet about his handling of the sport during the suspension of racing as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. They clearly believe a rapid resumption behind closed doors is vital, with no racing having been staged in the UK since March 17th, a week after the beginning of the highly controversial Cheltenham Festival.

It is likely that any hesitancy by the sport and its figurehead Nick Rust to press for an imminent return is partly based on the lingering embarrassment that some feel because Cheltenham was allowed to proceed. Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, is also the MP for Newmarket and it would be interesting to discover how he voted when the calls by other politicians to cancel the meeting were being discussed in Cabinet.

Hughie Morrison, interviewed by John Hunt on Sky Sports Racing the other night, put a very strong case for an early resumption. He said that a behind-closed-doors race meeting could easily be staged with probably a much lower chance of spreading a contagion like Covid19 than mooching round a supermarket to do the weekly shopping. People might be asked to keep their distance in shops, not that they do, so it’s hard to see how anyone with the virus will contrive to keep it to him or herself in that environment.

Morrison reckons race meetings would be relatively easy to organise: with no racegoers other than trainers, jockeys, officials and the odd owner – one per horse the norm when Ireland were racing behind their closed doors before drawing stumps last month – and in the countryside, risks Hughie says would be minimal.

I like the potential look of a mid-to late-May restart, with the plan for both Guineas at the start of June, Royal Ascot – maybe Prince Andrew can be persuaded to come out of his Royal lockdown and tasked to present all the winners’ prizes – fan-free but in its usual slot, and the Derby and Oaks on one day at Epsom at the end of June or beginning of July. The May resumption would allow Classic trials to be staged in advance of the Guineas races.

One unkind soul, when the likelihood of crowd-free meetings extending some way into the future, suggested there might in that case be more people than is usual at some Newcastle and Southwell all-weather meetings!

But joking apart – this is no joking matter – we need racing to return. I heard second-hand from a friend of a friend, who is also a friend, that one major bookmaking company is suffering very little compared with normal activity, such has been the take-up of on-line games and the like.

There is such a hunger for something to bet on – as I hinted or alleged last week – that many bookmaker and casino-game firms are inundating the breaks between television programmes with advertising material.

Imagine how much more business they will be doing when racing and top-flight football return. As to the latter sport I find it totally mind-numbing the way certain newspaper web sites keep reporting on possible future transfer deals and what their tame football celebrities think on many matters, mostly about how little they deserve to have their salaries reduced.

For all the tragedy of at least 20,000 hospital deaths associated with the virus, while obviously by no means the only cause, and however many more elsewhere especially in care homes, some elements of normal life remain.

One long-term friend, a racing fan who had been struggling in the winter despite having for many years sold motor vehicles while also running a shellfish cabin in deepest Essex, told me the other day things have turned around. The fish bar was never a restaurant, so it didn’t need to close. Meanwhile he’s been furloughed from the car sales job so has been able to run the cabin full-time on the four days it opens from Thursday to Sunday, rather than just the weekend.

Now they are doing deliveries and take-outs and he says business is booming. When I’m allowed out again I’ll go down to Billericay and take up Kevin’s offer of a free surf and turf. It’s too far for their home delivery service to accommodate me in Hackney Wick, 30 odd miles away, so I’ll have to be patient.

There were two million-pound-to-the-winner races at Sha Tin in Hong Kong yesterday morning with mixed fortunes for jockey Zac Purton on the two odds-on favourites. Beauty Generation was foiled by a short-head in the Mile race, but Purton got his revenge aboard Exultant in the QEII Cup. Exultant, the champion middle-distance horse in HK is now a six-year-old; as a three-year-old for Mick Halford when called Irishcorrespondent, the son of Teolifio won his first two races and then finished third to Churchill in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

The Irish Guineas, and all other Classic races in that country and the UK, will need to be slotted into the European programme and full marks to the French for getting their retaliation in first. One positive side-effect for racecourses is that their ground has had a much better chance to recover from the rigours suffered during the incessant rain and universally-heavy ground early in the year, while the Flat-only tracks will be looking pristine.

A happy consequence of that will be that they will last longer into the year when we resume. For instance, in Yorkshire, Ripon and Thirsk, which normally are looking to close their doors early in September, can be capable of going on much longer. I believe that Flat racing in the UK in 2020 could easily be staged on grass well beyond the normal early November finale at Doncaster. Who’s up for a New Year’s Eve spectacular at Newmarket?

 - TS