The Classic Cup was one of the few big races missing from jockey Zac Purton’s glittering CV but he filled it in some style when California Spangle made all the running to win the second leg of the four-year-old series at Sha Tin on Sunday.
It’s been nearly 15 years since Purton arrived in Hong Kong and he surely has one of the shortest to-do lists when it comes to winning big races but one of the few features to elude him has now been ticked off.
“It’s nice to get it on the board and on such a special horse as well,” Purton said. “From the first time I sat on him, I could feel how much quality he had.”
Hong Kong’s punters also realised the star potential of California Spangle, backing him into 1.9 for his attempt to go one better than he had in the Classic Mile from a bad draw last time.
Those punters who did pile in on the favourite never had a moment’s worry as California Spangle made his customary fast start to grab the rail and dominate from the front.
Having slowed the pace around the final turn, Purton kicked California Spangle three lengths clear of his rivals entering the home straight.
Try as they might, some talented four-year-olds were left trailing in his wake, with Turin Redsun the only runner to get within a length of the impressive Tony Cruz-trained winner.
Purton was always confident in the run and was delighted with the way the race panned out.
“It worked out perfectly for us,” Purton said. “We went a really good gallop and although there were a couple of horses pushing him a little bit through the first quarter of the race, he wasn’t trying to overdo it and he got into a lovely rhythm. Once the field settled down, he switched off really nicely.”
Now Purton has the Classic Cup under his belt, all of his focus will be on the Hong Kong Derby, which he has won just once aboard the John Size-trained Luger in 2015.
But given the way California Spangle finished the Classic Cup, the Australian is only hopeful rather than confident that his mount will see out the 2,000m trip.
“This might not be his proper distance but because he’s so good, against his own age group
he’s been able to do it. I was worried in the last 200m, he was out on his feet but he kept trying and it was a good effort,” said Purton, who went on to complete a race-to-race double aboard Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Sauvestre.
“[The Derby is] another question mark again. The last 200m he was really feeling it today, so 2,000m looks as though it’s really going to stretch him.
“It’s going to be another tough contest for him but hopefully he gets there in good form and tries his best.”
California Spangle can expect to face many of his conquered rivals in the Hong Kong Derby and there were some decent trials from runners in behind.
Classic Mile winner Romantic Warrior got no cover and was forced to race at least three wide for much of the way. In the circumstances, he did well to finish fourth and his connections will not be abandoning their Derby dream.
Runner-up Turin Redsun has improved with every step-up in trip this season and his trainer Douglas Whyte will hold hopes of overturning California Spangle in the Derby, while Lor’s Money Catcher was impressive in third at $62.
In the build-up to the Classic Cup, champion trainer Caspar Fownes made no secret of the esteem in which he holds Senor Toba and he will have been delighted with the run of his galloping grey, who stayed on well from a long way back to finish fifth.
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