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Forte justifies expensive price tag with impressive debut win at Sha Tin

The Hong Kong International Sale graduate translates strong trial performances into winning race form

He cost HK$6 million at the Hong Kong International Sale in July so Forte’s debut victory at Sha Tin on Saturday went someway to recovering some of his hefty price tag.

The smart four-year-old out-dashed a host of other first starters, along with well-respected sprinters United We Stand and Glenealy Generals, to land an impressive victory in the Class Four Panasonic IH Warm Jar Handicap (1,000m).

International Sale Griffins (ISG) are not renowned first-up winners, so trainer Caspar Fownes took extra delight from a victory he revealed had been months in the making.

“It’s always hard to win first-up in Hong Kong with a young horse, so it is a good effort. Hopefully he can get stronger and improve,” he said.

“He was pretty immature when I got him, but he learned with each trial so I was happy to get that winning result.

“We had this race picked out for him for some time and we put a lot of preparation into it.”

Fownes said he hand-picked the son of Per Incanto as a stand-out in the sale, but was surprised to see him go under the hammer for the price he did.

However with HK$570,000 prize money next to his name now, Forte is well on his way and looks a chance to recover his upfront costs.

“He was the one I liked the most, I am glad we got him in the end,” Fownes said. “He was a little bit expensive so I have some work to do to get the purchase price back but we will be doing our best.

“He was the one horse I said that I wanted to go for and [the owners] said ‘OK let’s do it, doesn’t matter what he costs, we’ll do it’, so it was a nice way to start. You can’t ask for more than that.”

After putting in some eye-catching barrier trials, Forte ($5.10) was well found in the market along with other first-starters Little Player ($6) and Infinite Power ($4.90).

While many scramble for the outside rail in the straight 1,000m contests at Sha Tin, jockey Joao Moreira was happy to go up the middle of the track on Forte.

“In the C+3 position, we find the track is very fair,” Fownes said. “He is versatile, he will end up running a lot longer than that so we will see how he is then plan the next race.

“He is a nice, progressive horse. He will be good around the turn and he is still learning so hopefully we can teach him the right way. He was beautiful today, saddled up a treat, walked around like a dude so it was a good win.

“I have a lot of time for Benno Yung [Tin-pang’s Infinite Power] and Hayes’ [galloper Little Player], so it was good to get a gauge on them.”

While it was short on numbers, July’s sale has the makings of being one of the better editions in recent years with Soaring Tower also scoring on debut earlier this term for Chris So Wai-yin.

Forte’s victory was Fownes’ 23rd for the season, extending his lead to eight atop the trainers’ championship.

Purton suspended on dog day

Zac Purton doesn’t have many bad days at the races, but Saturday was certainly an exception.

The Australian was winless from nine rides on the day and was whacked with a two-meeting suspension to top if off after stewards charged him with careless riding for his effort aboard Cheerful Days in the Class Four Panasonic Air-Conditioner Handicap.

Gunning for victory, Purton’s mount laid in on top of Karis Teetan aboard Stunning Impact 150m from home, causing interference.

The four-year-old was one of three seconds for Purton on the day, who also went under on $1.30 hot-pot Joyful Fortune.

Suspensions come few and far between for Purton, who rarely spends time on the sidelines. The 37-year-old will miss meetings on December 2 and 6, allowing him to return for the International Jockeys’ Championship on December 9.

Classique Legend rates highly

New Hong Kong import Classique Legend is the equal fourth-best racehorse on the planet, according to the latest ratings.

The Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings were released during the week and the grey sprinter was given a mark of 125, behind only Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath (130), dirt star Authentic and John Gosden’s Palace Pier (both 126).

Classique Legend got that rating from his dominant win in the Everest at Randwick last month when trained by Les Bridge, but has arrived in his new home and will compete in next month’s Group One Hong Kong Sprint for Fownes.

Three other Hong Kong-based horses appear on the list with Beauty Generation tied for 13th at 123, with Exultant and Hot King Prawn equal 36th on ratings of 120.

The final rankings for 2020 will be released on January 19.

Schofield, Poon face extended time on sidelines

Jockeys Chad Schofield and Matthew Poon Ming-fai face extended time on the sidelines due to injuries.

Schofield is battling a left hand ailment that he suffered riding trackwork during the week.

While a two-meeting suspension this week has meant Schofield has been unable to ride in races, the 27-year-old is set for a longer break than he had hoped with the Jockey Club’s chief medical officer ruling him out for Wednesday’s meeting at Happy Valley.

Schofield will be assessed again before declarations are announced for next Sunday’s Group Two features at Sha Tin.

Meanwhile, Poon is set to be released from hospital on Sunday after suffering fractured ribs during a fall at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.

It is expected that the popular rider could be out of action for several weeks as he recovers from the injuries which saw him rushed to hospital on Wednesday night. Poon was moved to Union Hospital on Thursday.

The Jockey Club unveiled a new presentation system with pictures of key officials and guests on screens, which left plenty of fans giggling on Saturday. It was a surreal moment given chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who is shown in the frame on the left, was actually standing just a few metres to the side. Social distancing has forced innovation, but this one might have missed the mark.

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