Purton starts new year with a bang at Sha Tin
Report: Hong Kong, Tuesday
Sha Tin: Chinese Club Challenge Cup, HKGr.3 handicap, turf, 7f
ZAC PURTON welcomed in the new year the way he finished the old one and Helene Spirit (Caspar Fownes) was the highlight of a treble for the jockey on the first meeting of 2013, staged in front of a crowd of over 54,000.
The Chinese Club Challenge Cup is always a point of congress for local horses that weren't quite good enough to take out the Sprint and Mile at December's international meeting, in addition to a few up-and-coming horses more favourably treated at the weights.
Formerly Group 3 placed in France as Arasin when trained by Pascal Bary, Helene Spirit certainly fitted the latter profile and is likely to back up quickly in a similar grade.
"Zac said he had a hard time pulling him up and he'll run again in the January Cup at Happy Valley next week over 1800m," Fownes said.
In receipt of 9lbs from 2-1 favourite Real Specialist, the second market pick Helene Spirit won commandingly by a length.
"On the ratings with the favourite, we were better off this time, and the draw really helped us," added Fownes.
"He hadn't been drawing well but he'd been racing really well, so he had to get his chance. The horse is in good form and keeps improving. He's smart and we've got quite a handy horse here."
Helene Spirit was Purton's third winner of the meeting, the Australian having also kicked home a four-timer at Happy Valley on December 28, to edge ahead of perennial champion Douglas Whyte at the top of the jockeys' standings.
Purton earlier scored on Travel Brand and Why Not, both for Dennis Yip, who leapt to a clear fourth in the trainers' list.
The rivalry between 12-time consecutive champion Whyte and Purton continues to generate plenty of interest, although both are suspended for the next two fixtures with Purton holding a 35-33 lead at the top.
Whyte did not fare too badly on the day, however, saluting in the final race on the very progressive Irish import Gold-Fun (Richard Gibson) who looks primed to contend for Classic honours over the next few months.
The class 2 mile winner raced as Strada Colorato for Ger Lyons last year and left his former home after winning a maiden at Navan last April.
A finale in which plenty of more expensive new imports with Derby intentions looked fairly plain or at least in need of a run, Gold-Fun won with plenty in hand. Even though he was near the bottom of the handicap, he appears a viable player in the Hong Kong Classic Mile in just under three weeks.
Irish jockeys also celebrated new year winners. Neil Callan kicked home British import Agiaal (Andreas Schutz) in the class 3 mile to bring up his fourth victory in 11 meetings this stint.
"It's my third winter spell in Hong Kong and things are going well enough," said Callan, whose day was marred by a suspension for a careless riding charge that will rule him out of two meetings in the middle of this month.
He added: "It takes a while to break into this place - it's tough. But this season I'm thankful to get some decent support from different stables. I've also had two winners for John Moore, one for David Ferraris and I'm happy to keep working at it."
Tom Queally, meanwhile, had to wait a month before banging in his first Hong Kong success in the class 5 earlier in the day on Island Spring for in-form veteran trainer Peter Ng.
"There's an awful lot of very good, well-established riders here who know the place very well, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it's great to get the first one," Queally commented.
"No matter how well you do in Hong Kong numerically, I think it makes you a better rider. I'm up for the challenge and hopefully I can get a few more on the board."
Elsewhere, British expatriate trainer Sean Woods saddled his ninth winner of the season courtesy of Mark Two in Class 4 for Australian jockey Tim Clark.