Kings Shield winning at Kempton Park
© Photo Healy Racing
Kings Shield put his rivals to the sword with a routing run to victory in the Class 2 Egret Handicap (1650m, dirt) at Sha Tin on Wednesday, 27 May.
The former British-trained import has given his handler Frankie Lor a puzzle to crack, though. The 90-rated galloper will climb high in the handicap for his latest success, and with high quality dirt-track races being scarce in Hong Kong, Lor may have to look overseas for a suitable option at a time when international travel is uncertain.
“We might run him one more time this season and then there are no more options,” Lor said. “I’ll have to talk to the owner but maybe (South) Korea is a possibility for the dirt race there (the Korea Cup), and then we might look ahead to Dubai next year if he shows us that he’s good enough. But with the coronavirus, we just don't know yet if we can go anywhere or not.”
Lor saddled his first overseas runner in last year’s KOR G1 Korea Cup (1800m) with Glorious Artist, fourth in Seoul but down the field against his stablemate this time.
Kings Shield fared admirably in the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains and G1 St James’s Palace Stakes in Europe as a three-year-old but has found his groove on the Sha Tin dirt track since arriving in Hong Kong — this win was the US-bred Scat Daddy gelding’s second from four attempts on the surface.
“We raced him on the turf but he’s just so-so, he can be close but he’s not good enough. On the dirt, he’s a different horse,” Lor said.
“He likes to be up there — if he can lead that’s good but if not he can sit second and that’s good as well. He’s just different on the dirt. We’ll have to see what the handicapper does now.”
The five-year-old was fast to stride, setting the tempo ahead of Buddies (121lb), and when jockey Zac Purton asked the 1.8 favourite to stretch down the home straight, he didn’t disappoint. Kings Shield galloped through the line two and a half lengths clear of Buddies in a Class 2 record time of 1m 36.75s.
“It was a small field and he had no pressure on him; he got there very easily and it was there for him to put up a performance like that but they’ve still got to do it. He did it well — it was a nice effort,” Purton said.
Three puts Purton ahead
Purton will start Sunday’s 11-race Sha Tin card with a precious three-win lead in the title race after snaring a treble.
He made the ideal start to the exclusively all-weather (dirt) track fixture as he sought to gain the upper hand on his jockeys’ championship rival Joao Moreira, who sat out the meeting due to suspension.
The Australian was level with the Brazilian on 123 wins at the outset and got the early break he was looking for when Coolceleb rocketed from gate six in the opener, section three of the Class 4 Shearwater Handicap (1200m).
The Benno Yung-trained four-year-old enjoyed an uncontested lead and powered down the home straight for a three and three quarter-length success.
The reigning champion made it treble with a well-judged, galvanising drive aboard Enfolding (120lb) to overhaul Touch Of Luck (121lb) in the final stride of the last race, the Class 3 Peacock Handicap (1650m).
The Yung stable bagged a double thanks to Striking Mr C (124lb) in section two of the Shearwater Handicap. Derek Leung was strong in the drive to ensure a short-head success over the Jack Wong-ridden Gunnar (128lb).
Cruz up for a championship challenge
Tony Cruz has his eyes fixed on longtime trainers’ premiership leader Ricky Yiu following a treble that took him to 51 wins for the term, just six off the top spot.
“I think I’d better give it a go!” Cruz said with a chuckle.
The two-time champion had not had a single win on the dirt track this term but after Beauty Loyal broke that cold snap in section one of the Class 3 Flamingo Handicap (1200m), Party Everyday made it a quick-fire brace in the next, the Class 4 Spoonbill Handicap (1650m), and California Concord turned that into a hat-trick in section two of the Flamingo Handicap.
Karis Teetan was in the plate for all three strikes as he took his season’s tally to 72, with 19 of those having been achieved aboard Cruz-trained gallopers.
“It’s nice to get a treble for Tony and he hadn't had a win on the dirt track this season, so it’s nice to break that for him. He and his owners have given me good support and I’m grateful for that,” Teetan said.
After Beauty Loyal’s neck score at 9/1, the Hong Kong International Sale graduate Party Everyday broke his maiden, at the 12th attempt, as the 3.6 second pick in the market.
“Last time he was pulling and hanging out — we know his problem and the race just needs to happen for him,” Teetan said. “Today, with the perfect draw (two), he just had that sit behind the cover and he switched off nicely. He waited a little and when he moved up he didn't give up, it was a nice win. I just hope he gets rid of his bad habits and he’ll be okay.”
California Concord earned a first win at his second start in Hong Kong, having won two from nine in Australia.
“I trialled him when he was up in Conghua and he really gave me a good feel. It’s all about quality with him, he’s got some potential, he was professional out of the gate and he focused nicely but he’s a next season horse,” Teetan said.
Hidden Spirit, meanwhile, is surely the season’s Class 5 king. The Paul O’Sullivan-trained five-year-old nailed his fourth win in the grade this term — all on the dirt — and third on the bounce with Neil Callan in the plate. The Irishman urged the Kiwi import to run down Curling Luxury for a three quarter-length score in the Swan Handicap (1800m).
Vincent Ho registered his first win for the month at Happy Valley just last Wednesday and he doubled his May tally in section one of the Class 4 Shearwater Handicap (1200m). The Francis Lui-trained Thou Shall Sing (126lb) rattled home to edge Pearl Champion (129lb) by a neck.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday, 31 May.