Zac Purton rode Hong Kong Derby aspirant Columbus County into second-placing on Sunday. Photo by HKJC.

Purton may have nabbed Derby favourite, but is keeping a close watch on others

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

For hutchishonkers.com

Michael Cox’s Derby Watch

In the lead-up to the 2020 Hong Kong Derby, Michael Cox will provide analysis for Hutchi’s Honkers as the next generation of stars build up to the big race on March 20. The four-year-old series begins with the Hong Kong Classic Mile on January 27, continues with the Hong Kong Classic Cup on February 23 and culminates with the Derby on March 22.

 

04/02/20

 

Zac Purton has been on and off the Hong Kong Derby merry-go-round in search of the winner for months and his persistence may have finally paid off after being booked to ride More Than but the big race jockey isn’t getting ahead of himself.

It isn’t often Purton finds himself without a leading contender in a big race and even though the Australian has ridden plenty of promising four-year-olds this season, none had made a truly serious case that they could win a Derby.

Purton won four races on Reliable Team – two last season and two more this term – another four on Buddies, and has ridden other likely Derby starters Decrypt, Enjoying and Super Oasis.

He rode Star Performance to fifth in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, then Columbus County to second in a Class 2 last weekend, before taking Private Secretary through its paces in a trial on Tuesday morning.

“By the time the Derby comes around I will have worked my way through most of the field,” Purton said. “I have tried that many of them and they’ve all ran okay, but nothing has really put its hand up to say it’s the Derby winner.”

Purton may have been struggling to find a leading chance but that all changed when he was booked to ride More Than This in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, the race formerly known as the Derby trial and main lead-up, on February 23.

Most bookmakers installed More Than This pre-post Derby favourite after the Francis Lui-trained gelding zipped home for second behind stablemate Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Classic Mile.

 

More Than This (yellow cap, on right) finished second to Golden Sixty in the Classic Mile. Photo by HKJC.

 

The run had Derby candidate written all over it but owner Huang Kai-wen found fault with Ryan Moore’s ride and Purton – who rode More Than This in a trial before the Classic Mile – got the call up for the second leg of the four-year-old series.

“It wasn’t Ryan’s fault, the horse is what he is,” Purton said of the slow start in the Classic Mile that saw More Than This settle last and have to be scrubbed along to keep pace.

The tempo of the Classic Cup should be more sedate over 1800m but Purton said he won’t be trying to change the way More Than This races.

“When I rode him in a trial the week before the Classic Mile, the connections wanted me to get him out of the gates faster and racing closer, but he switched on a bit too much, wanted to go hard and it took him 800m or 900m to relax and drop the bit, and you don’t want to be doing that in the derby,” he said.

“He is the type of horse that likes to be left alone, get in a rhythm and then build up a big run and that’s what I will let him do. I am happy to be on him. Unlike a few of the other Derby candidates, he has fully acclimatised, he is racing well and Francis’ stable is flying.”

Even though it seems Purton is on the horse most would choose as their Derby ride, he is keeping a close watch on the other hopes and he could get another chance to ride Columbus County in a 2000m Class 2 on the same day as the Classic Cup.

Purton knows better than anyone that the Derby merry-go-round can present a winner from left-field and at the 11th hour: he won his only Derby when the ride on Luger became available in the weeks before the race.

“I’m happy to be on More Than This but I am not completely ruling out those other horses I have ridden,” Purton said.

“Of course, some of those other horses I have been riding still have chances. We have only seen most of these horses, including More Than This, up to a mile, and the Derby over 2000m and around two corners is a completely beast to a 1600m race with one turn. So, let’s wait and see.”

 

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