The penultimate Sha Tin meeting of the season on Sunday is the latest staging post in a thrilling battle for the 2021-22 jockeys’ championship.
Zac Purton heads into the card two winners clear of Joao Moreira and has already received a morale boost ahead of this fixture by managing to secure a full book of 10 rides, one more than his rival.
So with Moreira playing catch-up in more ways than one, he will be relying on Caspar Fownes to be his potential kingmaker with four of his rides coming for the reigning champion trainer.
Moreira starts off aboard Fownes-trained Griffin Forever Friends in the Pearce Memorial Challenge Cup (1,200m) and the youngster should improve after finishing fourth on his debut over the straight course at Sha Tin.
But of the four rides provided by Fownes, it’s probably El Valiente in the Class Five Wong Cup (1,600m) that gives Moreira the opportunity of a much-needed winner.
Used to plying his trade on dirt with 10 runs on that surface this season, El Valiente will race for just the fifth time on the Sha Tin turf but has showed enough ability on the grass to suggest he will go close at this level.
Now racing off his lowest-ever mark of 36, the five-year-old finished a good fourth over course and distance a couple of starts ago when coming from last after being drawn in stall 14, but Moreira will surely position El Valiente further forward this time around from the plum inside barrier.
Fownes has provided Moreira with 14 of his 129 winners this season but the Brazilian will surely be worried that his run of success for trainer John Size has dried up at the wrong time.
More than a quarter of Moreira’s win tally this season has come for the 11-time champion trainer and plenty of punters would have expected that success to continue as the pair’s respective championship battles come to a head, but Moreira has not ridden a winner for the legendary trainer in more than a month.
Last successful for Size aboard Tuchel on June 5, the Brazilian has drawn a blank in 20 rides for the trainer since and has picked up just one mount for the veteran at each of the past two meetings.
That is repeated again this weekend with Moreira booked for just one Size-trained runner in the shape of Elon in the Class Three Ip Jug (1,200m), but that horse appears to have a good chance switching back to the dirt.
Moreira’s banker on the card could well come for Size’s title rival Frankie Lor Fu-chuen in the Class Two Chow Silver Plate (1,400m) as Keefy attempts to follow up his recent two-and-a quarter-length win.
One of Keefy’s biggest rivals will be Purton’s partner Captain Win, who has plenty of ability and is overdue for a win. He ran a good race to finish fourth from stall 13 last time but has been landed with another tricky draw in gate 10.
Purton has plenty of tough draws to overcome on some of his better mounts with Call Me Teddy, Reve Parisien, California Vanes and Turbo Power all drawn in stall eight or higher.
The Australian also gets the mount on Size’s Tycoon Jewellery in the Class Four Chan Trophy (1,400m).
The three-year-old was partnered by Moreira on his first two starts but showed his best form last time when second under Antoine Hamelin and Purton could well be getting on him at just the right time.
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