Ben Linfoot is our man in Hong Kong and he detects a hint of concern from Zac Purton ahead of the Mile while he also speaks to champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa.
Billions of reasons to love Hong Kong
Hong Kong is busy, beautiful, frenetic. Interspersed by the South China Sea, you’re never far away from the water, or a hill or a crane as it happens, while, during Hong Kong International Racing week, you can’t miss the horse racing billboards, either.
Before I got here I wondered how such a place had the need for two racetracks but it’s already very obvious. They are simply mad about their racing and I’ll be getting a taste of the madness scale on Wednesday night at Happy Valley when the track hosts the International Jockeys Championship.
Consider this, though. Approaching $1.5 BILLION Hong Kong Dollars is the expected turnover at this meeting and when you turn that figure into pounds (£150 million) it remains a seriously impressive one. For comparison, the UK betting industry takes a predicted £225 million on Grand National day.
It’s big then. And Happy Valley is merely the hors d’oeuvre for the main course at Sha Tin on Sunday, where four Group One races worth a combined $93 million HK Dollars are run featuring horses from all over the world.
From Europe 13 horses are here including Waldgeist, Mirage Dancer, Latrobe, Beat The Bank and Sir Dancealot, while Japan have brought a strong team of nine horses including Sungrazer, favourite for the Hong Kong Cup, and Persian Knight and Mozu Ascot, serious threats to Beauty Generation in the Mile.
So if you like your top-class Flat racing, I’ll be here all week providing daily updates and video interviews in a handy all-in-one round-up, with Zac Purton and Silvestre de Sousa starring in Wednesday’s edition…
HONG KONG RACING IN NUMBERS
- 2 - TRACKS: Happy Valley and Sha Tin
- 2 - Jockeys' Championships won by current holder Zac Purton
- 3 - Titles won by Joao Moreira before Purton dethroned him
- 4 - G1 contests on LONGINES Hong Kong International Races day
- 12 - World-class riders in the LONGINES International Jockeys' Championship
- 13 - TITLES; won consecutively by 'The Durban Demon' Douglas Whyte up until 2014
- 21 - Full-time trainers
- 22 - Individual G1 winners in action for the HKIR this year
- 23 - Full-time jockeys
- 88 - Race meeting each season, two a week between Happy Valley and Sha Tin
- 126 - Beauty Generation's International rating as the world's best specialist miler
- 127 - The rating of Hong Kong's greatest horse Able Friend
- 800 - Races per season
- £150m - the average amount of money bet on each race meeting
Zac Purton: Beauty and the Beast
Beauty Generation is a really hot favourite for the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on Sunday, but jockey Zac Purton has one creeping doubt ahead of the contest.
It seems incredible to think Hong Kong’s champion jockey could’ve got off this talented six-year-old feeling anything other than excitement following that amazing win in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile last time, where he broke the track record at Sha Tin.
An exhilarating mid-race move saw Beauty Generation go from near last to competing for the lead on the home bend, before he ran away from his rivals despite giving weight away and drifting across the track.
It was that waywardness that concerns Purton, though, and he feels it was a physical issue with the gelding’s feet that caused him to veer off a straight line last time.
“I just hope that he’s come through the race fit and healthy and well, “ he said.
“I haven’t been on his back since that race [Jockey Club Mile]. Obviously he ran off the track a little bit, he had a little bit of an issue there with his feet, but hopefully John Moore’s sorted that out, has got him back to his best then hopefully he can get the job done for us.”
Purton has an excellent record at the HKIR meeting at Sha Tin, winning all four races in his time here, six in total, including last year’s feature Hong Kong Cup aboard Tony Cruz’s Time Warp.
He rides the four-year-old again this year, but if he’s got slight concerns about Beauty Generation they’re nothing compared to those he harbours about Time Warp, a horse that has finished last on four of his last five starts.
Remarkably he won the other one, the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap at Sha Tin on November 4, but even that was a bit of a fluke according to the man on top.
“He’s been very out the last six months since he won the Gold Cup in January he hasn’t shown any glimpse of that form again,” Purton said.
“I know he won two starts back but he had a really soft lead that day and it was a surprise to everyone as three starts prior to that he hadn’t beaten a single runner home.
“Then he came out last time and raced poorly again. He’s a little bit of a worry, I just hope that the spark’s there and on the day he reproduces his best form.”
It could be a great day for Purton. He rides Exultant in the Vase and Little Giant in the Sprint, too. But there are obvious concerns over Time Warp, while you sense there might just be a slither of hope for Beauty Generation’s rivals in the Mile as well.
All the Way to 40 for SDS
With 39 Hong Kong victories under his belt British Champion Jockey Silvestre De Sousa knows a thing or two about riding around Happy Valley and Sha Tin.
The Brazilian will bid to hit the big four-zero at either the IJC on Wednesday or the HKIR on Sunday and his best chance of success at Sha Tin looks to be Eagle Way in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase.
A 7/1 chance for the Vase with Sky Bet, John Moore’s horse was well beaten by Highland Reel in the same race last season, but he put in a career-best effort last time when landing the BOCHK Jockey Club Cup under De Sousa on November 18.
So what does Silvestre make of his chance?
“I don’t say he’s out of the box but I do think he could run very well,” he says. “It’s a competitive race but he had a tough race last time when he won and he really tried hard. I’m sure Mr Moore will bring the horse 100 per cent.”
It’s Ways all the way for De Sousa as he rides Winner’s Way in the Hong Kong Sprint, a horse that has seen the backside of Sunday’s favourite Hot King Prawn on his last three starts.
Reversing form with that horse seems unlikely, but De Sousa has every faith in the horse’s trainer, at least.
“Trained by the master Tony Cruz, the horse has a funny way to run but he usually comes from the back and finishes well,” said De Sousa. “He’s a horse with a place chance.”
And finally the Brazilian is on Glorious Forever in the Hong Kong Cup.
Formerly trained by Ed Walker, the son of Archipenko is now trained by local handler Frankie Lor and he won three handicaps in a row at Sha Tin before finishing sixth, behind Eagle Way, in the Jockey Club Cup last time.
De Sousa said: “He ran a good few races here but last time was a bit disappointing. The pace of the race wasn’t for him but he’s a nice horse and when you look at his background he’s decent.
“I think we’re stepping up here, at least 20lb to pull out of the bag, but you never know.”
Watch the full video interview with Silvestre de Sousa below, in which he reveals a surprising choice for his moment of the year.